Paul L. Caron

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Law School Rankings: Barack Obama v. Robert Morse

Doc2Above the Law, Should The Obama Rankings Be Applied To Law Schools?, by Elie Mystal:

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. We’ve talked extensively about the outsized power the U.S. New rankings have on higher education. Normally we talk about it in the context of law schools, but they’re just as important in college admissions.

Now, there’s a going to be a new challenger to U.S. News: The President of the United States. And yes, in a battle between USN and POTUS, I think POTUS is the clear underdog.

Today, Obama will unveil various proposals he hopes will drive down the cost of college tuition, a problem that his administration has been shockingly silent on. The centerpiece of his proposal is a new college rankings system that will rate schools on “tuition, graduation rates, debt and earnings of graduates, and the percentage of lower-income students who attend,” according to the New York Times.

Eventually, Obama hopes to tie these Obama Rankings to federal financial aid: schools that perform well will have a larger pool of federal money to dole out to students, while schools that perform poorly will have less money to play with.

Does this sound like a good idea? Would you like to see Obama apply it to law schools? ...  More than a government-run rankings, in the law school context a lot of good could be done simply by government imposed transparency. Wouldn’t you like to know the default rates and the average indebtedness of the graduates of each law school? If the government forces law schools to be honest and transparent with what they are actually doing, I feel like there are more than enough for-profit publications (ahem) that can make rankings a little more valuable than those of U.S. News. Tying aid money to rankings would be a neat government trick if Obama can pull it off, but I do fear that many students would just make up any financial aid shortfall with private loans if they have their heart set on a low value school.

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1. Like who, the ABA? Yeah better to have a feckless entity whose objectivity has nothing to do with being financially incentivized to accredit more diploma mills that you would never let any of your relatives or friends’ children attend. Finally after all these years of the higher education racket running amok with tuition increases, enabled by the Federal Government’s lax underwriting standards, completely ignoring realities of repayment capability, there is some pushback (although I doubt anything will actually happen since both parties are in the pockets of the higher education industry).

2. “Every serious study of educational costs has concluded that they are driven primarily by competition. People say they want a cheaper college or law school, but in practice, the more expensive ones are usually the most selective.” You did not make these weak arguments at Proskauer Rose. Somehow, when you’re in the throes of academia, you like to say whatever you want. How do you explain the for-profit diploma mills, like University of Phoenix? Zero selectivity and exorbitant tuitions, all underwritten by the Federal Government.

The educational costs have increased because colleges for far too long did not compete on a price-basis, and students, err blind sheep, flocked. The schools just passed the bill onto their indebted students, again due to zero underwriting standards from the Federal Government. Schools had zero skin in the game. If they were competing on a price basis to attract students like other market participants, then they’d hesitate to build that new building, or hire Jack Lew to not even teach a class, because they would not be able to just so quickly increase tuition. I will admit that SOME of the tuition increase, particularly at public schools has been due to the unfortunate decline of state support of higher education.

However, there is a sea change (FINALLY) occurring. Almost every rational person I know agrees they will only send their kids to either an Ivy/Ivy equivalent (a REAL Ivy equivalent, like Duke or MIT, and not Syracuse or Wake) school… you know the types of places where members of the legal academy graduated from, as opposed to the places where they teach. The alternative would be a reputable in-state public flagship. On this, I can partially concede your point about selectivity and cost… but that’s only to a point. Princeton or Penn charging 40 thousand in just tuition? Sure. Seton Hall or Villanova? Sorry- not even close to being worth it.

As to your last point about the Yankees… Like the Yankees did in their new Stadium, the higher education racket priced out too many people and the rational consumers are choosing other options, creating all the empty seats.

Posted by: Cent Rieker | Aug 22, 2013 5:19:12 PM

Two quick observations:

1. If you want objective evaluations, the Government is the last person I would want to do it. A Government evaluation is by definition political in nature. I would trust almost anyone else to do it better.

2. Every serious study of educational costs has concluded that they are driven primarily by competition. People say they want a cheaper college or law school, but in practice, the more expensive ones are usually the most selective. Do more people root for the Yankees or the Athletics?

Posted by: michael livingston | Aug 22, 2013 2:32:43 PM