Paul L. Caron

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Malcolm Gladwell's Law School Rankings

New Yorker The New Yorker (Feb. 14, 2011): The Order of Things: What College Rankings Really Tell Us, by Malcom Gladwell [author of The Tipping Point (2000), Blink (2005), Outliers (2008)]:

There's no direct way to measure the quality of an institution -- how well a college manages to inform, inspire, and challenge its students. So the U.S. News algorithm relies instead relies instead on proxies for quality -- and the proxies for educational quality turn out to be flimsy at best. ...

[The U.S. News rankings don't] include price. Both its college rankings and its law-school rankings reward schools for devoting lots of financial resources to educating their students, but not for being affordable. Why? [Robert] Morse admitted that there was no formal reason for that position. It was just a feeling. ... U.S. News thinks that schools that spend lots of money on their students are nicer than those that don't, and that this niceness ought to be factored into the equation of desirability. ...

[G]iven that the rising cost of college has become a significant social problem in the United States in recent years, you can make a strong case that a school ought to be rewarded for being affordable. So suppose we go back to [Jeff] Stake's rankings game, and re-rank law schools based on ... a three-factor ranking, counting value for the dollar at 40%, LSAT scores at 40%, and faculty publishing at 20% [using 2008 data]. ...

  1. Chicago
  2. BYU
  3. Harvard
  4. Yale
  5. Texas
  6. Virginia
  7. Colorado
  8. Alabama
  9. Stanford
  10. Pennsylvania
  11. Georgetown
  12. Columbia
  13. U. Washington
  14. Kansas
  15. Arizona
  16. Mississippi
  17. Minnesota
  18. William & Mary
  19. George Mason
  20. Cornell
  21. Northwestern
  22. Washington & Lee
  23. North Carolina
  24. Iowa
  25. Kentucky
  26. Houston
  27. UC-Berkeley
  28. Wyoming
  29. UNLV
  30. Hawaii
  31. Idaho
  32. Illinois
  33. NYU
  34. Wake Forest
  35. Georgia
  36. Arkansas-Fayetteville
  37. Texas Tech
  38. District of Columbia
  39. Oklahoma
  40. SUNY-Buffalo
  41. Arizona State
  42. Puerto Rico
  43. Michigan
  44. South Dakota
  45. Utah
  46. Temple
  47. UCLA
  48. CUNY
  49. Vanderbilt
  50. Arkansas-Little Rock

[T]he Yales of the world will always succeed at the U.S. News rankings because the U.S. News system is designed to reward Yale-ness. ... Rankings are not benign. They enshrine very particular ideologies, and, at a time when American higher education is facing a crisis of accessibility and affordability, we have adopted a de-facto standard of college quality that is uninterested in both of those factors.

Begin the clip at 34:45:


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Tempted to say the most "meaningful" metric for evaluation of the quality of education one gets at a law school would be a fear-year-out salary survey of individuals who immediately entered solo practice upon graduation.

Posted by: bumperpflug | Feb 21, 2011 11:18:25 AM

You have to factor in the cost-not bad idea-but Miami was left out-you need to factor in the social life also-Law is NOT an intellectual pursuit. Chess, trivia, psychometric testing,math etc. are intellectual pursuits.

Posted by: Nick Paleveda MBA J.D. LL.M | Feb 19, 2011 9:41:04 AM

I do think that US News should reevaluate their ranking scheme because the rising cost of attendance and higher interest rates for student loans are very important factors when selecting an institution. With a very difficult job market, a $10,000 a year institution within a low cost of living area can be much more desireable than a $50,000 school in a very expensive city. This frees up a graduate's ability to select jobs such as state prosecutors or public defenders offices where they can really practice law versus having to join large firms just to pay the bills. Here is the problem, the prosecutors and public defenders still have work during tough economic times. The big firms are laying off experienced lawyers. $200K in the whole with no job is a lot tougher than $50K in the whole and the ability to work a great job with the potential to gain invaluable experience while serving the public at $50K a year. Not so bad.

Posted by: OleMissLaw | Feb 18, 2011 8:14:58 AM

Bogus's comment holds some weight. Maybe average indebtedness would be a better factor to consider, though not as clearly reflective of the institution.

Posted by: Bryan Gividen | Feb 17, 2011 3:50:18 PM

Median (or average?) ROI, 80%; weather and/or good looking co-eds, 20%. End of story.

Posted by: Matt | Feb 17, 2011 7:51:17 AM

Two of the three proxies he uses are ridiculous.

First, the stated tuition tells you nothing about how much schools are actually charging (some schools have a tiered scholarship system where everyone ends up paying different rates).

Second, faculty publishing? Really? A professor spending a lot of time publishing useless law-review articles is somehow directly a good thing for the students at his/her school? If anything, a school should lose points for this.

Posted by: bogus | Feb 17, 2011 3:52:19 AM