The Weirdness in the Rankings

October 8, 2010 at 5:16 pm (Choosing a law school)

I will be the first person to admit that I’m attracted to hype.  I was “that” girl in high school that had to rush out to get the new “it” item the most popular girl in school coveted. I read Car and Driver vehicle rankings, Cnet reports on techie toys, etc.  Unfortunately U.S. News and World Report has got me by the tail, too.  Law school forums like top-law-schools.com make considering a Tier 2-4 school taboo. Cruel bloggers (none of which are worth linking to) snort their nose up to anything below a top 20 law school.  I started to think about what made these rankings so important? Similar to car reviews, I naively assumed that some honest soul had taken the time to rate the schools on important standards which really matter and would impact the quality of the education, integrity of the school, and potential for success.  WRONG! 

A good example of this can be seen in examining Tier 2 schools like Indiana University – Indianapolis, Lewis and Clark, and Chicago-Kent School of Law.  According to this chart which shows the history of the rankings from 2002-2008, it wasn’t until 2003  that these schools were ranked at all (in other words they were Tier 3 or Tier 4 schools).  What caused the jump?  All of them (and others not mentioned) either built, remodeled, or added a new law building prior to jumping up in rankings.   Hmmmmmm.

I didn’t see anywhere in the USN&WR methodology about new buildings. Perhaps new buildings attract applicants with higher gpa and lsat scores (a variable that is factored into the rankings).  Perhaps its an extreme coincidence.  USN&WR does factor in faculty resources and library facilities. Peer assessment is also a varaible, which seems arbitrary considering most alums are going to rate their own alma matter favorably. This isn’t to say that bad schools are being ranked higher than they should be or that good schools are suffering in the rankings. I merely just want to point out the fact that rankings should not be over emphasized.  Trendy fashion, on the other hand . . .

UPDATE: This article published by the National Jurist does a great job of laying out the issues in the U.S. News & World Report Rankings, including the fact that there is a lot of  “massaging of data” since no one verifies the data submitted is correct or meets specific guidelines.

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