Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Grade inflation in law schools

The NY Times report that some law schools are retroactively raising the grades they have given to their students, in an effort to improve their prospects in the difficult market for many law grads: In Law Schools, Grades Go Up, Just Like That.

"[Loyola Law School in Los Angeles] is retroactively inflating its grades, tacking on 0.333 to every grade recorded in the last few years. The goal is to make its students look more attractive in a competitive job market.
In the last two years, at least 10 law schools have deliberately changed their grading systems to make them more lenient. These include law schools like New York University and Georgetown, as well as Golden Gate University and Tulane University, which just announced the change this month. Some recruiters at law firms keep track of these changes and consider them when interviewing, and some do not.
Law schools seem to view higher grades as one way to rescue their students from the tough economic climate — and perhaps more to the point, to protect their own reputations and rankings. Once able to practically guarantee gainful employment to thousands of students every year, the schools are now fielding complaints from more and more unemployed graduates, frequently drowning in student debt.
They have come up with a number of strategic responses. Besides the usual career counseling measures, many top schools have bumped up their on-campus interview weeks from the autumn to August, before the school year even starts, because they want their students to have a chance to nab a job slot before their counterparts at other schools do. "
"Harvard and Stanford, two of the top-ranked law schools, recently eliminated traditional grading altogether. Like Yale and the University of California, Berkeley, they now use a modified pass/fail system, reducing the pressure that law schools are notorious for. This new grading system also makes it harder for employers to distinguish the wheat from the chaff, which means more students can get a shot at a competitive interview. "

For a paper on grade inflation and job markets, see

Michael Ostrovsky and Michael Schwarz, 2010, "Information Disclosure and Unraveling in Matching Markets." American Economic Journal: Microeconomics, 2(2): 34–63.

It's behind a subscription wall, but here's the abstract:

"This paper explores information disclosure in matching markets. A school may suppress some information about students in order to improve their average job placement. We consider a setting with many schools, students, and jobs, and show that if early contracting is impossible, the same, "balanced" amount of information is disclosed in essentially all equilibria. When early contracting is allowed and information arrives gradually, if schools disclose the balanced amount of information, students and employers will not find it profitable to contract early. If they disclose more, some students and employers will prefer to sign contracts before all information is revealed."

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