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Is U.S. News Causing a Decrease in Black Enrollment in Law Schools:

USA Today:

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.

JosephSlater (mail):
U.S. News also counts bar passage rates as part of their rankings, and to the extent that law school administrators believe that bar passage rates are significantly correlated to LSAT scores, that would be an incentive not to admit folks with lower LSAT scores.
4.26.2006 5:39pm
Hoosier:
I don't know why I should care about this issue in particular. As opposed to the many, many other ways that US News rankings distort higher ed. If schools don't like the pressures that the rankings bring, or if they think that the whole idea of finding a "metric" for school quality is specious, they have a choice. They can refuse to participate. The prisoner's dilemma keeps them from doing so. But integrity isn't always rewarded. otherwise it isn't integrity. It's prudence. Do you want more black law students? Or do you want to pass Vandebilt Law? It's up to you, Dean.
4.26.2006 5:56pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
Let's see, the Dean of Cooley is criticizing a publication that invariably places his school in the 4th tier of its rankings. The rankings are very influential. Hmm, I wonder then, if the Dean here has an alterior motive to discredit the rankings that negatively affect the reputation of his school.
4.26.2006 6:04pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
I should add as a disclaimer, that I totally agree that US News creates inefficiencies in the admissions process. (Which is not to say that we necessarily have one here).
4.26.2006 6:05pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
I know its a wild and crazy idea, but why not admit applicants based just on their ability and performance?
4.26.2006 6:38pm
Taimyoboi:
"U.S. News only counts the 50th percentile LSAT"

I thought it was the case that U.S. News had switched to using the 25th and 75th percentiles, rather than the 50th.
4.26.2006 6:41pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
It switched back this year.
4.26.2006 6:45pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
The more I think about this, the more disingenous this looks. Let's accept Nussbaumer's premise, that there is a causal relationship between US News and how many black kids go to law school. The USN rankings are bought into by (1) the applicants; and (2) the schools themselves. No one's hand is forced, but apparently USN is culpable for simply putting the product on the market. This is all aside from the point that the LSAT, with all of its imperfections, is the best predictor of law school success that we've got, and the mere fact that some people are better at it than others hardly requires a "remedy."
4.26.2006 6:57pm
John Steele (mail):
Perhaps someone who has dealt first hand with the accreditors can comment, but it was my second-hand understanding that Joseph Slater is correct. That is, the accreditors aggressively push for higher LSATs as a way to reduce bar exam failure rates. As others have pointed out, schools can admit substantial numbers of lower LSATs before it hits their USN&WR rankings.

If that's correct, the focus ought to be more on the strengths and weaknesses of the accreditation process than on the USN&WR itself.
4.26.2006 7:12pm
te (mail):
Also, wouldn't this just mean that person's with lower LSAT scores wouldn't be admitted to certain schools? I find it hard to believe that a person wanting to be an attorney would abandon that goal if they had to go to, say, NYU instead of Yale, or U of Georgia instead of Duke.
4.26.2006 7:25pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
te, you are right in that hte problem exists at the margin, but when your only options are 3rd and 4th tier, the risk to your investment is probably sufficient to give rise to serious second thoughts about pursuing a legal education. Indeed, this appears to be the position from which Nussbaumer is speaking.
4.26.2006 7:27pm
Jeremy (mail) (www):
"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."

How is this good news? It sounds rather racist to me.
4.26.2006 8:44pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
Jeremy, why does that sound racist to you?
4.26.2006 8:48pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
Its sounds racist because its treating minorities different from majorities. Its like assuming, because I'm black, I like rap music and basketball, when in fact, I like heavy metal and soccer.
4.26.2006 9:13pm
Michael Livingston (mail):
Isn't it possible that there is more competition from nonblack minorities that is resulting in this difference? This is not to defend the US News which is becoming a bit fetishistic to me. But the concept of diversity--which always helps those groups who are least different from the dominant norm--may have had an unintended effect by benefitting other groups more than African-Americans.
4.26.2006 10:55pm
Redman:
I have read several articles on this site about ABA requirements that law schools apply affirmative action principles to their admissions policies, even though such might be contrary to the laws of the state where the law school is located. Is there a possibility that knowing that such preferential treatment is in the offing can cause a disincentive among the members of the favored group to perform well on the LSAT or any other admissions test? I do not think its that much of a stretch. Here we have a group that knows it can perform "less well" than another group, but it will still be treated "equally" if not in fact better than the group with higher scores.
4.26.2006 11:00pm
remy_209 (mail):
Some commentators have noted that Thomas Cooley is always in the 4th tier of US News rankings. Could this article also have something to do with the annual Thomas Cooley law school rankings?

http://www.cooley.edu/rankings/overall2005.htm

I especially like how they've ranked Temple Law School ahead of Stanford and Chicago (27, 39 respectively)
4.27.2006 12:35am
Ace (mail):
I am sure everyone agrees that the ABA is doing a good thing by trying to expose African-Americans to the legal profession at a young age.

But why is it no one has tied this issue in with the issues raised by the various writers debating the arguments debating Richard Sander. Sander, of course, argued that affirmative action harms blacks, and some of the statistics are alarming. There is also lots of criticism out there of this argument.

But could it be that the arguments surrounding over-emphasis of the LSAT and the possible negative effects of affirmative action are related?
4.27.2006 1:05am
SWClerk (mail):
Here is some info on Cooley's Ranking System:

http://www.cooley.edu/rankings/intro_general.htm
4.27.2006 1:18am
LOL (mail):
oh my gosh, those thomas cooley rankings are truly funny. i'm literally laughing out loud. they have their "own" ranking systems which conveniently place them right up near the top. that cracks me up.

btw, this kid that works down the hall from me whho got like a 140 or something ridiculously low on his LSAT got into thomas cooley. fine institution.
4.27.2006 1:51am
don't take wrong way (mail):
okay, so just got finished with my con law II zam. let me tell you something that is pure fact. Constitutional law would be infinitely easier if it wasn't for two distinct (and independent) factors:
1) the inability of african americans to perform on standardized tests (bakke, gratz, grutter, washington v. davis)
2) sandra day o'connor

thanks, i'm done venting. this post sounds politically incorrect, but its the truth. proceed to post replies accusing me of racism. i can deal with that, i'm dating a black girl.
4.27.2006 2:00am
Steve:
Back in my day Cooley used to be pretty much an open-admissions institution, unquestionably considered 5th out of 5 in Michigan. I commend their fighting spirit, however!
4.27.2006 2:14am
dk:
Most of the posters here are doing their best to ignore the elephant in the room.
4.27.2006 3:31am
Frank Drackmann (mail):
Are there even that many competitive blacks applying to law schools? Aprox 20% are eliminated right from the start by felony records, many of those that go to college are PE majors due to their grueling athletic schedules,subtract the number who are drug addicts,gang members,in the military,in jail I'm surprised any apply to law school.
4.27.2006 7:57am
AppSocRes (mail):
Ultimately these stupid systems for ranking educational institutions just measure the average achievement of incoming students. Much more useful would be a measure of added value: does the student stand a better chance of take-your-pick:passing the bar exam/getting a high-paying job with a big-name law firm/clerking for a Supreme Court justice) if he spends three years at Harvard Law School versus three years at Boalt Hall?

I suspect that the value-added by a given school is very different for different classes of student and any ranking system should take this into account: A student with a working-class background and marginal LSATs might gain much more from a three-year stint at Suffolk Universty or Cooley Law School than he would from an affirmative action experience at Harvard Law or Boalt Hall.
4.27.2006 9:50am
Hoosier:
LOL--I'm OFFENDED!

You call 140 on the LSAT "ridiculously low." Well, I only got 46!

Of course, that was in '89.

RE: The Cooley rankings--I had not idea that Chicago s*cks so badly. Glad I dodged that bullet!
4.27.2006 9:59am
JRL:
"How is this good news? It sounds rather racist to me."

I clicked in to make the same comment. How unfortunate that one of our would make this remark.
4.27.2006 10:44am
ChapelHeel (mail):
Mike: What is your authority for this statement?: "This is all aside from the point that the LSAT, with all of its imperfections, is the best predictor of law school success that we've got..."

I've been at two law schools where it has become clear that undergrad GPA (relative to undergrad school mean) is a better predictor than LSAT, although not by much. In any event, LSAT is not the clear winner, which isn't surprising. The LSAT is basically a multiple choice exam. The writing component is small, and unbelievably simplistic. All pretty much contrary to law school exams. Plus it has the general standardized exam taint.

I think the LSAT is a tool, but not quite what it is cracked up to be. (I say this having gone to law school on the strength of a high LSAT score and fairly average undergrad performance...a situation in which the LSAT was the better predictor).
4.27.2006 11:09am
nik (mail):
Cool!! BTW, my blog:
blog
4.27.2006 11:33am
SouthernLawyer (mail):
Frank Drackman: you're kidding, right?

A student with a working-class background and marginal LSATs might gain much more from a three-year stint at Suffolk Universty or Cooley Law School than he would from an affirmative action experience at Harvard Law or Boalt Hall

AppSocRes, can you elaborate?
4.27.2006 11:43am
Steve:
A student with a working-class background and marginal LSATs might gain much more from a three-year stint at Suffolk Universty or Cooley Law School than he would from an affirmative action experience at Harvard Law or Boalt Hall

I tend to disagree. At the end of the day, you still have a degree from Harvard. That's a meal ticket that will always be with you, long after you've forgotten how useful your actual law-school experience was.
4.27.2006 12:03pm
Zubon (www):

At the end of the day, you still have a degree from Harvard.

I believe his point is that you will not, in fact, end up with a degree from Harvard. You will end up with a lot of student loans and a letter explaining why you are not being invited back for the next semester. If LSATs predict performance well and (by assumption) you have LSATs so low you would not have gotten into the college without affirmative action, your chances of completing the program are relatively low.

Or maybe Harvard Law is no harder than Cooley Law. I believe there are some differences between the programs.
4.27.2006 12:32pm
Zubon (www):
Pardon: "...so low you would not have gotten into the law school..." We usually do not refer to Harvard Law as a "college."
4.27.2006 12:37pm
Steve:
I think you underestimate how hard one has to try in order to flunk out of a top law school. You may graduate with a C average, but you'll get that degree.
4.27.2006 12:44pm
WAL:

I believe his point is that you will not, in fact, end up with a degree from Harvard. You will end up with a lot of student loans and a letter explaining why you are not being invited back for the next semester. If LSATs predict performance well and (by assumption) you have LSATs so low you would not have gotten into the college without affirmative action, your chances of completing the program are relatively low.

Or maybe Harvard Law is no harder than Cooley Law. I believe there are some differences between the programs.



You'd have to be really trying, whatever your intellect/work ethic, to flunk out of one of the top law schools once you're admitted.

You could actually make the Cooley is much more difficult than Harvard (once you're in school). You'd have a place where a number of people know they're going to get kicked out if they don't do well enough and (even if they do) most jobs you'd get at the top of the class aren't going to match the jobs someone at Harvard gets with mediocre grades. The pressure to do well versus coast could be a lot tougher.
4.27.2006 1:06pm
David Matthews (mail):
Don't Take:

In reference to your comment:

"i can deal with that, i'm dating a black girl."

A few years back, in a heated barroom debate, I was accused of making a racist comment.

Another participant (black), came to my defense: "You know he's married to a black woman?"

To which the accuser (a black woman) replied, "I know plenty of sexist men who are married to women, so I don't see why being married to a black women would mean he can't be racist."

In my many years of getting into heated and often pointless arguments in a vain attempt to solve the world's problems over several pitchers of beer, this strikes me as the best comeback I've ever heard. (And I told her so at the time, and she and I have become very good friends, although we still disagree vehemently and vociferously on many topics....)
4.27.2006 1:08pm
Zubon (www):
Steve and WAL: completely fair.
4.27.2006 2:22pm
Lewke:
So according to the article law school enrollment of blacks and hispanics has increased by around 1% over the last 12 years, and by 15% when you include asians. And this guy is complaining because one group went down with hispanics becoming almost equally represented and asians actually passing peak black enrollment so that overall minority enrollment in law school is higher than it was 12 years ago?
4.27.2006 2:36pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
Lewke, Asians don't count because they do well on the LSAT. Jews don't count as a minority for the same reason. See, that's how diversity works.
4.27.2006 3:16pm
markm (mail):
"A student with a working-class background and marginal LSATs might gain much more from a three-year stint at Suffolk Universty or Cooley Law School than he would from an affirmative action experience at Harvard Law or Boalt Hall." It's also very probable that this student would have benefitted far more from education in something he is actually good at than from taking on huge loans to get a chance to become a second-rate lawyer in a country with an oversupply of lawyers.
4.27.2006 3:17pm
JRL:
"It's also very probable that this student would have benefitted far more from education in something he is actually good at than from taking on huge loans to get a chance to become a second-rate lawyer in a country with an oversupply of lawyers."

I would generally agree with that, except I am an example that counters your argument. I am in the last throes of my legal education at a Tier 1 school. My UGPA and LSAT project me to the bottom 20% of the class (based on my school's formula). Instead, I am in the top 10% of the class, on the executive board of the law review and have a published note. Oh, and I have a good job awaiting me.
4.27.2006 3:40pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
Want to talk about underrepresented minorities? Been to a College Baseball game lately? The only blacks I've seen this whole season were the state prisoners cutting the grass prior to game time.
4.27.2006 4:42pm
El (mail):
JRL-

I see your argument and I raise you mine:

I graduated from a Tier 4 law school, Top 1% in my class, Law Review Editor, published a Comment, have very little student loan debt because of scholarships, interned for a judge of a U.S. Court of Appeals, interned for a Justice at the States's Supreme Court, after graduating I served as a clerk for a Judge in the U.S. Court of Appeals (different circuit than internship), and have a fantastic job.

So, good things do come from some Tier 3 and Tier 4 law schools.
4.27.2006 5:53pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
El, first of all, let me just - that's awesome. But I don't think anyone said that people can't make great careers out of 3rd and 4th tier schools. It's just that the odds of making it are lower coming out of, say, Cooley, compared to, say, GMU. The investment for a lot of people is just as big - NYLS costs more than NYU last time I checked, and if not more, than they are certainly in the same range, but the investment is much riskier for NYLS kids.
4.27.2006 7:12pm
Ken Arromdee:
"I know plenty of sexist men who are married to women, so I don't see why being married to a black women would mean he can't be racist."

Sexist men are married to women because (at least for straight people) marriage is inherently sex-specific and the fact that the guy prefers women over men as spouses far overwhelms any other factor which may lead him to prefer men to women in other situations. Marriage isn't inherently race-specific, and it's unlikely that the guy who marries a black woman has some reason to marry a black person specifically, so marrying a black woman is much more likely to be evidence that he isn't biased against blacks.
4.28.2006 2:22am
Daniel@NYU:
This is less of an affirmative action question than a question of where to set the absolute bottom bar for admission to a law school is.

The question of whether it's appropriate to balance race in a situation where you're admitting students with 160 scores into a class with an average of 170 is very different from the question of whether it's appropriate to admit students scoring 140 into a class with an average score of 150, because the 160 student, while not as highly scoring as his peers at that school, is certainly competitive based on the general yardstick for measuring who is likely to be capable of becoming an attorney. The students scoring 140, by contrast, are probably unlikely to be able to pass a bar exam.

I think that the law schools are correct that affirmative action can't get them all the way to 13% black enrollment. To do that would require them to increase the qualification disparities between black students and their classmates at all law schools, and to jeopardize the bar passage rates, and, thus, the accredation of lower ranked law schools.

Campaigns to encourage more qualified minority students to apply to and enroll in law schools is an idea that I don't think anyone can object to.
4.28.2006 6:36am
David Matthews (mail):
Ken, the point of the comment is very simple, and valid:

Just because you marry someone, doens't provide evidence that you respect anything about them. Abusive men marry women and enjoy the domination that that gives them. I have met men who literally treat their wives as slaves, and if that wife happened to be black, it wouldn't say anything about the husband's racism or lack thereof. I have known men who appeared to choose their wife specifically in order to demean and/or denigrate the individual, and have suspected in several cases where a person had a partner of a different race, that it was for precisely the reason that he/she wished to put down the race, as well as the individual (in one case, a black man with a white woman; in another case a white woman with a black woman; in another case, a white man with an Asian woman -- abusive racist jerks come in all flavors.) I wish marriage or relationships were proof of mutual respect, or at least love, but they aren't.

So, if someone wants to hide behind their choice of wife or girlfriend to protect themselves from "racism" charges, I have to agree with my friend, who said (of me), "that ain't nearly enough."

(And, by the way, I'm not making any judgement about the orignal comment -- didn't sound like racism, just a frustrated observation.)
4.28.2006 10:59am