I mentioned offhandedly the other day that George Mason's part-time students are "a bit weaker" than our full-time students. Allow me to clarify that my comment was meant only in the very specific context of the criteria utilized by U.S. News: U.S. News considers only LSAT scores and undergraduate GPAs in judging a school's students.
In deciding to "merge" full-time and part-time statistics this year, U.S. News's rankings are completely innocent of the fact that, as at other law schools, many of our part-time evening students have been out of college for years, and have substantial accomplishments in their chosen fields of endeavor, graduate degrees, and other credentials that simply don't count for U.S. News purposes. Moreover, given consistent, creeping undergraduate grade inflation, an evening student's slightly lower GPA from, say, a decade ago, may actually be higher in "real" terms than a newly minted B.A.'s slightly higher GPA. [One of my best students had an undergraduate GPA from many years back from a particularly rigorous undergraduate institution in the mid-to-high 2s, which placed him at the top of his class!] All of these arguments were made to U.S. News by various deans in urging the magazine not to combine apples and oranges, i.e., part and full-time students, and all were ultimately disregarded by U.S. News. [Last Summer, I pointed out on this blog that "I've had, for example, evening students in their 40s and 50s who have successfully built multi-million dollar businesses. Does it make sense to judge them based on their undergraduate GPA from twenty years earlier?]
That George Mason's part-time students have slightly lower undergraduate GPAs and LSATs than our full-time students, and thus for U.S. News purposes are "a bit weaker" than our full-time students, is a statistical fact that anyone could look up on various pre-law websites. The same is true at every other law school that I know of that has a part-time program. And it does mean that when U.S. News, contrary to prior practice, combined full and part-time students' statistics, it hurt those schools' rankings to a greater or lesser degree.
In my experience, though, our part-time students are fully as capable as our full-time students. They also bring a maturity and life experience that is invaluable in the classroom. Many of my best students have been part-timers, and I am constantly amazed at how much they manage to accomplish while holding down full-time jobs and often having family responsibilities as well (see this post from 2006). And unlike some law schools, we have never treated our evening students as a "cash cow" or as second-class citizens. They receive the same instruction and instructors as everyone else, are graded on the same curve, are eligible for the same extra-curricular activities, such as moot court, law review, and serving as writing fellows, and overall succeed spectacularly.
In a just or even rational world, the accomplishments of our part-time students, and the special qualities they bring to the law school, would actually raise our U.S. News rankings.
As I've pointed out before, flaws in U.S. News' method of ranking law schools doesn't lead to me to argue that U.S. News shouldn't be ranking law schools. Rather, I wish that some other prominent sources, such as the Wall Street Journal or The American Lawyer, would undertake their own rankings (as Brian Leiter has done), to give U.S. News some competition and diminish the absurdly disproportionate impact U.S. News has on student decision-making and law school governance.