Law schools eager to raise their national rankings are demanding higher scores on the Law School Admission Test, but they're paying a price in terms of racial diversity as fewer and fewer black applicants make the cutoff.
That's the controversial argument of John Nussbaumer, an associate dean at Michigan's Thomas M. Cooley Law School and author of a widely debated paper in this month's edition of the St. John's University Law Review. His thesis says schools increasingly ignore their mandate not to overemphasize the LSAT. It is striking chords far beyond academic circles as the legal profession ponders how to reverse a steady, 10-year decline.
Since 1994, when first-year black enrollment peaked at 3,432, that number has dropped 13% to 2,975, according to data from the Law School Admission Council, which administers the LSAT. By contrast, Asian and Hispanic enrollments have climbed: Asians by 44% to 3,759, and Hispanics by 26% to 2,610.
Blacks are getting denied at the gate, Nussbaumer says, because schools are increasingly concerned with LSAT scores: The average law student's score has jumped from 154.3 in 2001 to 157.3 in 2005.
However, we learn from the same article that applications to law school increased 30% between 2001 and 2004, which would no doubt have raised the LSAT scores of incoming students regardless of US News, so how do we know how much, or whether, U.S. News has affected LSATs?
And I'm also skeptical that U.S. News would lead to a decline in admissions of African Americans. U.S. News only counts the 50th percentile LSAT. Any law school that wanted to admit more black students without affecting its U.S. News score could simply matriculate black students with LSATs below its median, instead of white students who also had LSATs below its median. This would not affect U.S. News rank at all, even if the black students had much lower average LSATs than the white students. Perhaps there are law school admissions officers who don't understand how U.S. News and/or basic statistics works, and thus they are focusing on averages and not medians, but I'd need some evidence that this is true.
The good news is that the article points out that the ABA is making efforts to encourage minority students to think about law school early in their education.