PreLaw - Back to School 2010 - 4
U.S. News changes rankings to avoid manipulation over employment data. But critics argue the data is “junk” to begin with and change is needed. BY JACK CRITTENDEN
aw schools are trying to manipulate its rankings, and U.S. News & World Report is taking steps to stop the gaming — by changing how it calculates employment data. But critics argue that the data is misleading to begin with, and two students are now trying to correct the situation. It is all part of an ongoing drama that is playing out in discussions across the blogosphere. U.S. News factors the percent of graduates employed at graduation (4 percent of the overall ranking) and the percent employed nine months after graduation (14 percent) in its annual compilation of the best law schools. The magazine has used a formula to determine the percent employed at graduation, when a school does not provide that data point. The formula has been the school’s employed-at-nine-month figure minus 30 percent. “It’s clear that more law schools have decided whether to report their graduation employment based on how their actual percentage will compare to the estimate U.S. News will make for them,” wrote Robert Morse on his blog in May. In other words, if a school’s actual employed-at-nine-months figure is lower than the U.S. News estimate, they are not reporting the figure. Morse said that 74 law schools did not report their at-graduation employment rate, up from 38 percent in 2005. He cited a story on another blog — Tax Law Blog — that questioned whether some schools were making a mistake by reporting lower data. Ted Seto, a law professor at Loyola Law 4
School in Los Angeles, has studied the U.S. News weighting closely. He said that because the magazine uses round numbers in determining a school’s overall score, the 4 percent weighting of the employed at graduation data easily could impact a school’s overall ranking. Indeed, this year the University of Alabama submitted its’ employed at graduation data (92.1 percent), but U.S. News inadvertently used its own estimate instead (66.9 percent). That resulted in the school dropping from number 30 in the overall ranking to number 38. Paul Caron, author of the Tax Law Blog and professor at the University of Cincinnati, said that the employment data is just “junk” to begin with.
“It is junk when you count flipping burgers as a job,” he said. “And schools are hiring their own graduates.” Duke University, in fact, provides stipends to unemployed graduates, allowing them to work for a couple of months at no cost to the employers. The program guarantees that Duke can report a 100 percent employment figure. The program had nine participants in 2008 and 15 in 2009. Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law takes it a step further. The Dallas law school pays employers to “test drive” its graduates. The law school funds $3,500 for the graduates first month of employment, with the option to fund additional months if it is moving toward full-time employment.