U.S. News Updates Ranking Methodology

U.S. News is changing its methodology for its Law School Rankings to include a new factor on graduate debt.

The new debt factor will be a assigned a 5% overall weight made up of two components. The first 3% will be applied to the average amount of graduate debt incurred by the previous year’s graduating class.

“Only students who have taken on law school debt will be counted in this metric,” Mikey Spivey, Founding Partner of The Spivey Consulting Group LLC, says. “Higher average debt will hurt; lower average debt will help.”

The remaining 2% weight will be applied to the proportion of a law school’s graduating class who incurred debt, according to a report by Spivey Consulting.

“Again, higher proportions will hurt; lower proportions will help,” Spivey says.

To integrate the new debt factor, U.S. News reduced the “selectivity” factors from 25% to 21%. Median test scores now make up 11.25% with median GPA at 8.75%, acceptance rate at 1%, and faculty resources dropping from 15% to 14%.

LESS EMPHASIS ON ADMISSIONS

Spivey says the new changes to the ranking help reduce the influence that admissions metrics, such as LSAT and GPAT, play in U.S. News rankings.

“To their credit, the Law School Admission Council has been advocating for a more comprehensive view of candidate LSAT scores by law schools,” Spivey says. “But they have recognized the compelling power of U.S. News rankings to push schools into a more mechanistic use of LSAT scores. This change could be helpful in achieving a holistic evaluation of candidate test scores more in line with the Council’s advised use.”

Experts have long criticized rankings as poor and largely subjective predictors of success.

In his paper, “Finally, a Use for the U.S. News Law School Rankings,” Noah C. Chauvin, a Law Clerk at U.S. District Courts and former Editor-in-Chief of the William & Mary Law Review, argues that “measures, such as students’ undergraduate GPAs and LSAT scores (22.5 percent of a law school’s ranking score) provide only a weak indication of how successful students will be once they are actually in law school.”

DANGEROUS ROOM FOR BIAS

While the addition of the debt factor brings less emphasis on admissions metrics, experts voice concern that focusing too much on graduate debt may incentivize schools to admit students from wealthier backgrounds.

“It’s almost inconceivable to imagine admissions officers rejecting someone because their personal statement discusses their impoverished background,” Spivey says. “But it’s more possible to think that after a few years fighting this metric in the rankings that a school changes its recruitment strategy somewhat, or that a bit of unconscious bias creeps in.”

Sources: Spivey Consulting, California Law review

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