The Big Losers
Brooklyn Law: Every year, one school picks up the academic equivalent to the Razzies. This year, it was Brooklyn Law’s turn as it endured the biggest drop in the Top 100 – 19 spots. Let’s put Brooklyn in context. The school competes in the law profession’s roughest neighborhood, tussling with Columbia, New York University, Fordham, St. John’s and Yeshiva – all Top 100 schools – for students. Despite offering steep tuition discounts, the program now risks tumbling out of the Top 100 altogether. So much for karma!
Don’t think that Brooklyn is just letting anyone in. Their average undergraduate GPAs rose over the previous year (3.11-3.59 vs. 3.05-3.53), while their LSAT range (152-158 vs. 153-159) was nearly identical. Even their acceptance rate – 51.6% — dropped 1.6 points. So where did Brooklyn Law go wrong? Think bar passage, which slipped from 92.7% to 84.8%. Not to mention, placement continued to bedevil the school, even as its rate rose from 54.3% to 63.9% over the past year. But a 19 spot drop? Seems absurd.
Penn State: Six months ago, Penn State launched a grand experiment: Splitting their campus in two and tailoring an experiential curriculum to better position students for the job market. This year’s rankings reflect just why this move was so important, the school plummeted 15 spots to 86th (just two years removed from ranking 51st). Like Brooklyn Law, Penn State is a case of a step forward and a step back. On one hand, the school’s placement rate gained 7.3% in one year to 72.2%. Plus, its acceptance rate fell from 46.3% to 38.6%. Despite this progress, the school’s undergraduate GPA range dropped from a 3.30-3.79 to a 3.15-3.72, reflecting a lower caliber of students. More damning, however, were low survey marks from academic peers and practitioners. Changes were obviously needed. Maybe next year, they will begin to bear fruit.
University of Alabama: Three years ago, Alabama appeared poised to enter the Top 20. This year, they were lucky not to stumble out of the Top 30. What happened? For one, judges and lawyers aren’t particularly enamored with Alabama graduates, doling out a 3.2 score – the second lowest average in the Top 50. The school’s average LSAT scores and undergraduate GPAs have also fallen, the by-product of less rigorous admissions policies – as evidenced by the school’s acceptance rate jumping from 27.5% to 36.7%.
Washington University: Wait, didn’t this school hold onto its 18th place ranking. It sure did. In fact, Washington University actually boosted its index score by four points – which often results in rising a couple of spots. Not this year.
By most measures, the school enjoyed a stellar year. While its LSAT and undergraduate GPAs dipped slightly, the school became more exclusive as its acceptance rate declining 2.5%. More impressive, the school’s placement rate jumped from 75% to 91.1%. And its bar passage rate – 93% – placed it among the top schools. Still, its rank wouldn’t budge. Obviously, Washington University isn’t a loser in the traditional sense. Quite simply, the school picked the wrong year to excel.
Depends On Your Vantage Point
U.S. News & World Report: How is this for a bombshell? On the eve of the U.S. News rankings being released, Kaplan Test Prep released the results of a survey conducted with 1,029 pre-law students and 120 law schools (including 17 of the 30 highest-ranked law schools). And the results revealed quite a schism between prospective law students and administrators.
On the student side, 73% shared that U.S. News’ ranking would be an “important factor” in their decision-making. That’s three out of every four students, with only 31% wishing for the rankings to be discontinued. In contrast, 52% of admissions officers would prefer to end rankings with just 40% agreeing that the rankings should be factored heavily into the decision-making process.
Does this dichotomy suggest some administrators are considering opting out of rankings altogether? Doubtful. It’s a love-hate relationship where exposure trumps principle. That said, schools may have less to fear from U.S. News rankings than they think says Jeff Thomas, executive director of pre-law programs at Kaplan Test Prep, in a statement. “One thing we’ve acutely observed,” Thomas explains, “is that the actual rank ordering is often more important to law school administrators and their alumni than it should be for applicants.”
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