The Law School Admissions Council sent out its most recent monthly LSAC report series to the Libraries of LSAC member schools. The most interesting one of the bunch is Fear of Failing: the Effects of U.S. News & World Report Rankings on U.S. Law Schools, by Michael Sauder, and Wendy Espeland. Love 'em or hate 'em, the rankings are a fact of life for law schools. This report looks at the effect of the USN rankings on legal education, and it's not peripheral.
From the Executive Summary:
One general effect of the USN rankings on law schools is that it has created pressure on law school administrators to redistribute resources in ways that maximize their scores on the criteria used by USN to create the rankings, even if they are skeptical that this is a productive use of these resources. This redistribution is illustrated by two examples mentioned consistently by the administrators interviewed: (a) increases in marketing expenditures aimed toward raising reputation scores in the USN survey and (b) increases in merit scholarships intended to improve the statistical profile of incoming classes. A more subtle form of resource redistribution is also described in this section: the adoption of strategies by some schools to “game” the rankings.
Some forms of this redistribution comes in the forms of brochures and other publications designed to enhance a school's reputation, which is a full 40% of the ranking. Many administrators acknowledge that many these enhancing publications are probably not read before being recycled (go green!), but peer pressure makes them spend upwards of $100,000 to produce and distribute these publications anyway. Library volume count, by the way, represents 0.75% of the weight of an over all score. That explains much more as to why academic law libraries are hardly ever enhanced with an eye to the rankings.
Schools game the system by giving out financial aid to students with high LSAT scores as a way of bringing in a higher quality metric to the entering class and student body as a whole. Some schools create part-time or probationary programs to keep the academically weaker students off the books. Student quality (LSAT, GPA) is 12.5% of the full ranking. Things such as need-based scholarships, enhancements to programs, improved quality to areas of the school not affecting the rankings all tend to take a back seat at the most rankings-obsessed schools. The pressure on admissions and career services offices is tremendous. Schools put up with it because potential students do take rankings seriously. Rankings even affects faculty recruitment and the ability of faculty to publish in quality journals. While none of this is a surprise, the report is a nice compilation of how schools have adapted their budgets and practices to account for their survey information. There is also a nice table that breaks down the ranking standards and weights.
The report is available on the LSAC site. Because of the way the site is constructed, there is no direct URL. However, anyone interested in finding it should start at the main LSAC page, click on Research Data from the menu bar running across the top of the screen, roll over the graphic for Research and select Grant Reports. The report should be available from the page that comes up. It's numbered GR-07-02. [MG]