Law Schools

Dean Blames Rankings for Drop in Minorities at Law Schools

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An associate dean at Thomas M. Cooley Law School blames U.S. News & World Report for a drop in the percentage of black and Mexican-American students entering law schools in the United States.

A big part of the problem is the rankings and their emphasis on the Law School Admission Test, associate dean John Nussbaumer told the New York Times. “Many schools base their admissions criteria not on whether students have a reasonable chance of success, but how those LSAT numbers are going to affect their rankings in the U.S. News & World Report,” Nussbaumer said. “Deans get fired if the rankings drop, so they set their LSAT requirements very high.”

Nussbaumer was commenting on a new study that found a drop in the number of African-Americans and Mexican Americans entering law school from 1993 to 2008. Over that period, the number of entering students in those two groups dropped from 4,142 to 4,060, even as the number of seats available increased, the Am Law Daily reports. As a result, entering enrollment dropped by 7.5 percent for African-Americans and 11.7 percent for Mexican Americans.

The percentages declined even though the minority applicants’ grade point averages and LSAT scores improved over the period. However, theirs scores don’t match those of white applicants overall, lawyer Anthony Solana told the Am Law Daily. Solana has written several advice books for minorities seeking law school admission.

Cooley, known for its large enrollment of African-American students, doesn’t go along with the emphasis on very high LSAT scores, Nussbaumer told the Times. “We’re living proof that it doesn’t have to be that way, that those students with the slightly lower LSAT scores can graduate, pass the bar and be terrific lawyers.”

Rodney Fong, an assistant dean at Golden Gate University Law School, offered another reason for lower minority enrollment. In an interview with the Am Law Daily, he said that as a member of the California bar’s fairness committee, he learned that some minorities are hesitant to pursue a legal education because of high tuition. “The one thing that kept popping up was the cost of law school,” Fong told the publication.

The report, A Disturbing Trend in Law School Diversity, is a collaboration between the Society of American Law Teachers and the Lawyering in the Digital Age Clinic at Columbia University’s law school. It found that, from 2003 to 2008, 61 percent of black applicants and 46 percent of Mexican-American applicants were turned down at every law school where they sought admission, compared with a shut-out rate of 34 percent for white applicants.

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