Law Schools

After a Blogger Questions ‘Rankings Malpractice,’ US News Makes a Secret Change


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Paul Caron

U.S. New & World Report is changing an automatic calculation for law schools that don’t report how many of their students are employed at graduation, but the magazine isn’t disclosing the details up-front.

The idea, says U.S. News rankings czar Robert Morse, is to stop law schools from gaming the system.

Morse says in a post at his Morse Code blog that 74 law schools in the latest rankings didn’t report their at-graduation numbers, nearly double the number that didn’t report in 2005. U.S. News believes the increase stems from the realization by schools that they will do better in the rankings if they keep the information a secret.

In the past, U.S. News made an automatic calculation when law schools didn’t report their employed-at-graduation numbers and explained how it worked. The magazine assigned a number that is about 30 percentage points less than the number of the school’s graduates employed nine months later. (Both U.S. News and the American Bar Association collect figures on students employed nine months after graduation, but only U.S. News asks for the at-graduation figure.)

U.S. News believes that the increase in schools not providing at-graduation data “proves that far more law schools do track their students at graduation,” Morse says. The magazine suspects that “virtually all law schools could be reporting vital job placement data and have chosen not to do so in order to game the rankings.”

In the future, U.S. News will “significantly change” its calculation for at-graduation rate employment when schools don’t report the number. The idea, Morse says, is to create an incentive for more schools to provide the data. The new procedure won’t be released before the rankings are published.

U.S. News decided to change its procedure after TaxProf Blog reported on the increasing number of schools that aren’t reporting at-graduation data. The blog noted that 16 schools, however, reported at-graduation data that was lower than they would have gotten by the automatic calculation, and questioned whether they had committed “rankings malpractice.” ABAJournal.com summarized the TaxProf Blog post, drawing comments like this one: “With articles like this about why it’s malpractice not to lie, we wonder why the public has a low view of the legal profession.”

Morse has a similar view. “U.S. News strongly believes that schools should report their at-graduation data and finds the suggestion that schools that honestly report data are doing something wrong is misguided,” he writes.

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