On Monday, we talked about the big New York Times article over the weekend about the way law schools use merit-based scholarships to rope students in. When discussing the need to give out scholarships, the Times cites some very familiar language about how fixation on the U.S. News rankings guides the decisionmaking processes of many law school administrators.

Truly, you seemingly can’t have an article that is critical of the way law schools handle their business without there being some jab at U.S. News in there. It’s kind of like how basketball announcers can’t talk about a white basketball player without slipping in unsupported criticism that he might be “soft.” When the U.S. News stuff appeared in the NYT piece, I was so used to it I didn’t even notice it.

But U.S. News rankings guru Bob Morse noticed it. And he’s freaking sick of it….

On his blog, Morse Code (gavel bang: ABA Journal), Bob Morse challenges law schools to take responsibility for their own actions:

[L]aw schools need to disclose more information about how grading on the curve really works and what proportion of students lose their merit awards after the first year. Law School Transparency has made a new proposal to the ABA that requires law schools to disclose far more detailed scholarship retention information.

It’s clear that the U.S. News law school rankings have a large impact on law schools and prospective law school students. However, the U.S. News Best Law School rankings are not why students lose their scholarships. In addition, the article implies that the U.S. News rankings are the key factor behind why law schools are offering more merit-based aid and less need-based aid in order to enroll students with higher LSATs and GPAs and, as a result, improve in the rankings.

Law schools need to take far more direct responsibility for their policies instead of citing the oft-repeated claims that they are forced into these actions solely because U.S. News exerts so much power over law school behavior.

Don’t look now, but it is certainly starting to look like U.S. News has decided that telling the truth to its prospective law student consumers is a profitable (and ethical) enterprise. U.S. News realizes that they get nothing from being complicit in the law school attempts to obfuscate or mislead about crucial statistics. And the magazine could lose a lot should somebody else figure out how to base a law school ranking on data the schools can’t manipulate.

There’s only so much U.S. News can do. But it seems the publication has decided that it will do whatever it can to prevent law schools from deceiving their consumers. Maybe U.S. News can’t stop law schools from engaging in merit scholarship bait-and-switch shenanigans, but it can damn well add its voice to those telling students to watch out for it.

And if you are in any way concerned with law school transparency, you know how important U.S. News can be.

Let’s say you are a prospective law student. You’ve now got U.S. News, the New York Times, nearly the entire blogosphere, and even Congress telling you to be careful when you interact with a law school administrator. Think about that. Think about how much of an idiot you’d have to be to believe anything a law school puts in its brochures or recruiting materials at face value. The tide has turned; pretty much the only people who believe that it’s still cool to mislead prospective law students are people who work for law schools.

U.S. News can read those tea leaves as well as anybody else, and when the revolution comes, they’ll be on the side of truth and transparency.

Prospective law students who want to know the truth have gained a powerful ally. And prospective law students who want to keep their heads in the sand should realize they’re leaving their backsides exposed.

U.S. News Looks At the Rise in Merit Aid at Law Schools [U.S. News]
US News: Law Schools Should Quit Blaming Us for Their Policies [ABA Journal]

Earlier: Are Law School ‘Merit Scholarships’ A Big Racket?


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