TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Friday, March 11, 2011

Henderson & Morriss: The U.S. News 'Employed at Graduation' Rankings Metric

U.S. News Logo Following up on Wednesday's post, U.S. News Changes Methodology in Forthcoming New Rankings to Stop Schools From Gaming Employment Data: Bill Henderson (Indiana-Bloomington) & Andrew Morriss (Alabama), Data on the "Employed at Graduation" U.S. News Rankings Input:

Yesterday, Bob Morse of U.S. News published a blog post in which he signaled a change in the law school rankings methodology, specifically with regard to employment.  The prevailing view on the law school administrator list-serves (which nearly a dozen people have forwarded to us) is that U.S. News will be increasing the weighting of "employed at graduation" ...

We have zero inside information, but we are willing to bet a substantial sum that any methodology change will be in a completely different direction.  Here is why.  Over the last decade, fewer and fewer schools have been supplying U.S. News with employed-at-graduation data. ...

Earlier this year, Paul Caron suggested that if a school's employed-at-graduation rate is more than 30% lower than its employed at 9 month rate, it is "rankings malpractice" to supply U.S. News with the data.

Employed at Graduation
As readers can see from the above chart (generated by Paul Caron in his rankings malpractice post), a large proportion of law schools have figured out the payoffs.  Over the last decade, the percentage of non-reporting schools has skyrocketed. ...

If the goal is (a) to utilize data that better reflect reality, and (b) provide greater transparency and access to such data, it makes no sense to increase the weight of an input (employed-at-graduation) that is either withheld by law schools or is heavily gamed. ...

[W]e think two methodogical changes have a good chance of being implemented:

  • U.S. News is likely to heavily penalized schools that withhold the employed at graduation data.  Going forward,  the imputation may be far more negative than -30% off of employed at 9 months.  A drop in rankings will stop in its tracks the non-response problem.
  • Regarding perceptions of gaming, it is possible that U.S. News has formulated a way to quantify how many jobs at graduation map onto full-time professional jobs that require a law degree. ...  

We would like to suggest to our colleagues in the legal academy that we are approaching an endgame.  ... At some point, all our lawyerly rationalizations will come to a bad end because a governmental agency or a court is going to challenge our right to self-regulation, thus ushering in a truly disgraceful chapter in the history of American legal education.  

Now is one of the very few moments in our careers as academics where we have to make hard choices and demonstrate that we warrant the trust and respect of our tenured positions.   Through our governance organizations (ABA, LSAC, NALP, AALS), we need to implement a system of complete transparency on employment outcomes.  If the system has real teeth, it will force us all to work very hard to ensure we are delivering value commensurate with the tuition dollars we collect.

It's the end of the road.  We likely have one last chance to get it right.

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As someone who loves the law, and has been very disappointed in the professionals who have been trying to game the system, I really appreciate this post. Thank you.

Posted by: Liz | Mar 11, 2011 6:11:44 PM

The worry and general oppression caused by my law school debt ($300k; I have a tier 2 JD and an NYU Tax LLM) is something I wouldn't wish on anyone. What's most biting about it, though, is that I got into this trouble not by partying or doing something untowards, I got into it by wasting a sizeable chunk of my life learning things that have near zero value in the marketplace.

Posted by: anon | Mar 13, 2011 7:07:13 AM