Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Bait and switch in law school admissions?

A much blogged about article in the NY Times discusses how law schools offer many admitted students merit scholarships whose continuation depends on their maintaining a certain grade point average. The article notes that, coupled with forced-curve grading policies, this sometimes means that many of those with first year scholarships will inevitably fail to maintain their eligibility for continued scholarship assistance. It argues that the algorithm used by US News and World Report to rank law schools plays a role, by focusing on statistics for the entering class.

Law Students Lose the Grant Game as Schools Win

"Why would a school offer more scholarships than it planned to renew?

"The short answer is this: to build the best class that money can buy, and with it, prestige. But these grant programs often succeed at the expense of students, who in many cases figure out the perils of the merit scholarship game far too late.

"On the Golden Gate campus recently, a group of first-year students at risk of losing their scholarships were trying to make sense of the system. Most declined to be identified for this article because criticizing the school seemed, at minimum, undiplomatic. But the phrase “bait and switch” came up a lot. Several assumed that they were given what is essentially a discount to get them in the door.
"If it sounds absurd that America’s legal education system could be whipsawed by, of all things, U.S. News, you have yet to grasp the law school fixation with rankings. Unlike undergraduate colleges, law schools share far more similarities than differences, particularly in the first-year curriculum.

"So a lot of schools regard the rankings as their best chance to establish a place in the educational hierarchy, which has implications for the quality of students that apply, the caliber of law firms that come to recruit, and more. Striving for a high U.S. News ranking consumes the bulk of the marketing budget of a vast number of schools.

"Which is where scholarships come in.

"The algorithm used by U.S. News puts a heavy emphasis on college grade-point averages and Law School Admission Test scores. Together, those two numbers determine about 22 percent of a school’s ranking. The bar passage rate, which correlates strongly with undergraduate G.P.A.’s and LSAT scores, is worth an additional two points in the algorithm. In short, students’ academic credentials determine close to a quarter of a school’s rank — the largest factor that schools can directly control. "

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