Tipping the Scales

Winners & Losers In U.S. News’ 2013 Ranking

by John A. Byrne on

After a dramatic rankings plunge, Hofstra Dean Eric Lane took a number of actions

After a dramatic rankings plunge, Hofstra Dean Eric Lane took a number of actions

Pity the dean of Hofstra University’s law school. It was the institution that experienced the worst drop of any in U.S. News & World Report’s 2013 ranking of the best law schools.

Hofstra’s Maurice A. Deane School of Law, ranked 89th in 2012, plunged 24 places in a single year to finish at 113th largely due to weak employment numbers. Less than half the school’s graduates, just 47.5% to be precise, had jobs nine months after graduation. The placement rate for grads at graduation was so apparently low the school failed to report it to U.S. News. So Hofstra fell like a stone.

That’s the nature of the annual rankings game, of course, where schools routinely go up and down–often for reasons that are unexplained by U.S. News. The magazine’s methodology weighs a dozen factors, from an opinion surveys of deans and faculty as well as attorneys and judges to median LSAT scores and acceptance rates. A school’s placement success for its graduates also plays a key role in the methodology.

One thing’s for sure: every school that loses ground in the ranking has plenty of company, just as every winner has plenty of company on the upswing.

SCHOOL REDUCED ITS INCOMING CLASS SIZE AFTER A BIG RANKINGS DROP

Hofstra Law School Dean Eric Lane felt compelled to take immediate action in the aftermath of the rankings setback. The school decided to reduce its incoming class size so that students receive more individualized attention and improved employment opportunities. Hofstra also hired a full-time “employment outreach specialist” to proactively promote its students to employers and created a new alumni career services committee to mentor students and assist with employer outreach.

“While we’ve seen positive movement in some key areas — bar passage rate and reputational rank among lawyers and judges — the primary reason our ranking fell is due to our 2011 employment numbers,” he acknowledged. “Graduate employment, along with preparing and positioning our students for the current legal market, has been and will remain a top priority for the Law School. As a new dean and faculty member for 36 years, I understand the impact these rankings have on members of the Hofstra Law community and I am greatly concerned.”

There were a good number of other deans who shared his worry. Other stumbles in 2013 occurred at Lewis & Clark as well as the University of Pittsburgh, both down 22 places each to 80th and 91st, respectively. Meantime, Seattle University’s law school fell 20 spots to a rank of 102nd from 82nd, and DePaul University in Illinois dropped 20 places to finish 109th from 89th a year earlier. They’re all among 13 law schools which fell in double-digits on the 2013 U.S. News list.

THE UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA’S COLLEGE OF LAW SHOWED THE BIGGEST GAIN: UP 29 PLACES

As is typical on ranking lists, the most volatility occurs among schools ranked outside the top 50, where differences among institutions is often statistically insignificant. The University of Nebraska’s College of Law in Lincoln showed the singe biggest improvement , moving up 28 places in a single year to finish 61st from 89th in 2012.

Three other law schools had gains of 20 or more spots. The University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and the University of Louisville both jumped 21 places to a tie of 68th this year from a tie of 89th a year earlier. The University of Hawaii gained at least 20 places to finish 80th.

All told, 20 schools on the U.S. News’ list rose five or more places in a single year. Oddly, some moved in tandem with each other. Seton Hall, the University of Denver and the University of New Mexico all moved up five places, for example, from a rank of 69 last year to a tie of 64 this year.

(See following pages for our lists of the biggest winners and losers in the U.S. News’ 2013 ranking) 

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  • JohnAByrne

    One of the more interesting ways to analyze a ranking is to track which schools have gone up the most and which schools have crashed. Frankly, those wild swings say more about the reliability of a ranking than they do about the ranked schools. The more dramatic the changes, the less likely the ranking is measuring what is really important.

    • Bob Tobin

      Agree entirely. And isn’t it peculiar for a dean to take such drastic action based on these rankings?

      • Matt

        Regardless of the volatility of rankings, less than half of your student body finding legal employment nine months after graduation is itself grounds for taking drastic action. If only all of the under-performing, over-producing law schools made similar changes…

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