Earlier this month, the National Jurist released its first-ever ranking of the private law schools with the “best value.” We found it odd, of course, that the “best value” designation was awarded to schools where less than half of students (and in some cases, less than a third of students) are able to retain their merit scholarships, but we tried to give the magazine the benefit of the doubt. After all, this is the same publication that used incorrect indebtedness figures to crown at least three schools as offering the “best value” in the nation, as recently as last year.

We thought that maybe things would be better when National Jurist rolled out its seventh annual Best Value rankings, for both public and private law schools. The Best Value ranking system takes into account a law school’s tuition (25% of study), students’ cost of living expenses (10%), students’ average indebtedness upon graduation (15%), the percentage of graduates who got a job after graduation (35%), and bar passage rates (15%). As in years past, National Jurist ranked only the top 20 schools, and gave letter grades to the rest of the schools on the list, ranging from A- to F.

So were this year’s Best Value rankings as fraught with error as last year’s? Continue reading to find out…

The theme of this year’s rankings seems to have been the law schools with the shiniest, happiest employment outcomes for the least debt-saddled graduates. Like last year, National Jurist assigned different weights for different types of jobs students were able to obtain after graduation, from full-time, non-professional jobs (i.e., “Would you like fries with that law degree?”) at 10 percent, to full-time, long-term jobs where bar passage is required at 100 percent. Once again, several schools dropped out of the top 20, and nine schools that received grades of A- or B+ last year fell off the list entirely.

Let’s get this show on the road. Here are National Jurist’s 2013 Best Value Law Schools (click to enlarge):

Although the National Jurist touted the benefits of academic scholarships to lessen law school graduates’ debt loads, it apparently ignored new data having to do with the percentage of law students who lose those scholarships. About one-third of the class of 2014 lost their scholarships after only one year of law school, but no mention of that is made anywhere. (At best, the information gets reflected in the rankings indirectly, through average indebtedness upon graduation.)

For those of you who like facts, these are the Best Value schools where just half of students are able to retain their scholarships (other schools had much higher retention rates, or unconditional scholarships):

University of Alabama
– 54 pecent of students entering school in 2011 retained conditional scholarships.

University of Arkansas, Fayetteville
– 50 percent of students entering school in 2011 retained conditional scholarships.

Brigham Young University
– 51 percent of students entering school in 2011 retained conditional scholarships

Speaking of scholarships, will UC Irvine be able to stay on this list going forward? It seems doubtful. The star footnote points out that “UC – Irvine provided substantial scholarships to inaugural class,” meaning that the students who were truly able to squeeze the “best value” out of the school were members of the first class, who all got free rides. The next two class years received partial discounts, but this year’s tuition and fees are $47,308.50 — and that’s for in-state students. When the number is that high before living expenses have been added (pegged between $18,292 and $24,057, depending on if you live on- or off-campus), small discounts are like receiving a thousand gentle punches in the face from Floyd Mayweather: you’ll be thankful that you weren’t hit harder, but your face will still hurt.

We eagerly await the day that the National Jurist is able to get things right when it comes to the law schools with the best value. Until then, we’ll have to supplement its ranking with additional facts and figures, and pray that incoming law students aren’t swayed without first reading the fine print.

Readers, what do you think of the latest Best Value rankings? As always, your comments are welcome.

Best Value Law Schools [National Jurist]

Earlier: The Private Law Schools With The ‘Best Value’ (2013)
The Law Schools Where You’re Most Likely to Kiss Your Merit-Based Scholarship Goodbye
The So-Called ‘Best Value’ Law Schools of 2012 — Which Actually May Not Have the ‘Best Value’ At All


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