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U.S. News Movers:

Over at TaxProf, Paul Caron summarizes the biggest moves in the new 2007 U.S. News law school rankings. On the one hand, I'm pleased to report that George Mason moved from number 41 to number 37. On the other hand, don't make a decision on where to attend law school based on annual fluctuations in U.S. News rankings, and don't fool yourself into thinking that minor differences in rankings between schools signify anything meaningful.

UPDATE: Two years ago, I wrote: [While the U.S. News rankings suffer from flawed methodology,] the reaction of the Association of American Law Schools to the rankings, which has been to simply condemn them, is unproductive. Prospective law students are going to invest a lot of time and money in law school, and they are looking for as much information as they can get. Rankings, including even U.S. News's rankings, provide useful information. If nothing else, the rankings themselves influence the decisions not only of students, but to a lesser extent of junior faculty choosing among competing offers, law review editors selecting among articles, and employers, and thus become a self-fulfilling prophecy that can't simply be pooh-poohed.

The real problem is not rankings, but that U.S. News has had a virtual monopoly on the rankings, though Leiter has provided more useful (at least for those concerned with the academic quality of the faculty and students at various schools), though less used guidance for students for several years now. One hears of such things happening, but it's absurd, for example, when a student turns Chicago for NYU because the former is "ranked" sixth and the latter fifth. Both are excellent schools, with very different characteristics, located in very different cities. Which one a sudent decides to attend is a personal choice that should be influenced not a whit by a marginal difference in rankings. If there were competing ranking systems, students would recognize that there is a certain arbitrariness in any ranking, and be less hung up on whether a school has moved up or down slightly in any given year. Let a thousand rankings bloom! Newsweek, Wall Street Journal, American Lawyer, rise out of your collective stupors and do your own law school rankings!

Dan Solove has related thoughts this year at Concurring Opinions.

96 Comments
[Ilya Somin (guest-blogging), March 31, 2006 at 9:27pm] Trackbacks
How the US News Law School Rankings Reward Wasteful Spending:

So much figurative blogosphere ink has been spilled over the US News law school rankings that I hesitate to try to add anything. However, there is one flaw in the US News system that hasn't received as much attention as it should. As Brian Leiter explains, approximately 11% (9.75% for instructional spending, 1.5% for other spending) of a school's rankings depends on its per-student expenditure of money. This may not seem like a lot, but, given the high degree of clustering in the other components of the formula, it can actually make a substantial difference to a school's final ranking.

In other words, if School A and School B are exactly equal in the quality of their students, faculty, facilities, etc., but School A spends twice as much money per student to get this result as School B, then A will come out well ahead in the in the US News rankings. A is actually rewarded for being far less efficient in getting educational value for its money than B! Thus, the US News system gives schools an incentive to engage in wasteful expenditures. This is particularly unfortunate in the case of public law schools, where some of the funds expended are taxpayer money. And even private law schools receive many direct and indirect government subsidies as well.

There is no reason to believe that including expenditures provides useful information to applicants or others interested in the school's quality. To the extent that the money the school spends translates into real improvements in quality, these can be measured directly by including ratings for the quality of the faculty, student body, and facilities. Many of these factors are already included in the US News formula and the rest certainly can and should be (some are in fact measured in the Leiter rankings).

I have to admit that George Mason Law School has a lot less money than most of our competitors, so we have a special interest in getting this part of the US News system eliminated. But this, to my mind, is one of those cases where an argument is correct despite the fact that the person making it could have self-interested motives.

UPDATE/CLARIFICATION: It's true that US News does not publish a separate expenditure ranking. However, as Brian Leiter explains in the first link above, they DO factor in expenditures in the formula that determines schools' overall rankings. As a result, some schools place ahead of others solely because they spend more money per student without actually increasing quality.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Final Four Update:
  2. How the US News Law School Rankings Reward Wasteful Spending:
  3. U.S. News Movers:
28 Comments
[Ilya Somin (guest-blogging), April 1, 2006 at 11:48pm] Trackbacks
Final Four Update:

Sadly, George Mason lost in the Final Four. Some dreams are just not meant to be . . . at least not this year!

But West Coast VC readers will be happy that UCLA won. Here at GMU, we take solace in the fact that we moved up in the US News law school rankings more than UCLA did despite the financial disadvantage I discussed in my earlier post:). We are definitely closing in on UCLA in both law AND basketball, so the Bruins better watch out!

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