American Bar Association / ABA, Law Schools, Rankings, U.S. News

The ABA Does Something Right! Will U.S. News Follow And End One Perverse Incentive For Law Schools?

Does the amount of money a law school spends necessarily have an effect on the quality of its legal education?

Here at Above the Law, we say no. Our Law School Rankings take a look at the outcomes law schools provide for their graduates, not the inputs law schools cast into the pot.

But U.S. News still looks at many input factors in evaluating law schools. One of the most notorious factors U.S. News cares about is faculty resources. U.S. News rewards schools for spending a lot of money on the faculty per admitted student. You can kind of see the thought process there: good schools hire good professors and good professors command higher salaries.

Unfortunately, this U.S. News factor creates perverse incentives. Schools with unreasonably high tuition are rewarded for overpaying faculty, at the expense of the debt burden loaded upon their students and recent graduates. Ranking one school better than another because it engages in profligate spending is a cruel joke in this economy.

We don’t know if U.S. News will stop this madness, but yesterday the American Bar Association decided to stop asking schools to report the figure…

The news was discussed on Brian Leiter’s Law School Reports. It is truly a big deal. Here’s the important part of a letter the ABA sent to law school deans:

1. Elimination of expenditures questions. The expenditures component of the Finances section of the AQ has been eliminated, as we had previously reported we planned to do. There are no longer any questions or entries regarding expenditures. The Revenues and the Reserves components of the Finances section of the AQ remain. In connection with the sabbatical site visit process, schools will be required to report expenditures information for the year of the visit and the two preceding years.

If the ABA stops collecting this information, will U.S. News stop using it for evil? Certainly, U.S. News can still ask schools to provide faculty expenditure information. But without the ABA also asking, there’s nothing preventing schools from just lying to U.S. News in order to improve their rank.

There’s also no clear intellectual value to adding this information to a law school’s ranking. Law schools shouldn’t be competing to spend as much money as possible, they should be competing to provide the best services at the cheapest cost to students.

Taking away the expenditure factor could have a big effect on the U.S. News rankings. Here’s what Leiter says:

If they do drop it, as they should have long ago, expect to see Yale lose its #1 spot, expect to see NYU drop, and expect to see state schools like Hastings and Wisconsin rise.

More than anything, dropping the expenditure metric is just an idea whose time has come. The game done changed.

ABA to eliminate expenditures reporting requirement–what will US News do? [Brian Leiter’s Law School Reports]

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