August 11, 2010
What Is It Going to Cost Stanford Law to Become the No. 1 Law School in the Country?
Recently the dean of Stanford Law School, Larry Kramer, announced he intends to make Stanford Law the #1 law school in the country. While Dean Kramer did not explicitly refer to the US News Law School rankings that's the scorecard most folks will point to as "proof" should Stanford Law achieve the status of so-called "best law school" in the country. "U.S. News and World Report’s annual ranking of law schools overwhelmingly dominates the public discourse on how law schools compare to one another." Quoting from the ABA Section on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar's Report of the Special Committee on the U.S. News and World Report Rankings (July 15, 2010) "We believe that, for better or worse, U.S. News rankings will continue for the foreseeable future to dominate public perceptions of how law schools compare, and that there is relatively little that leaders in legal education can do to change that in the short term."
It's common knowledge that the way to improve a law school's ranking under the US News ranking methodology is to increase expenditures per student. In Can Stanford Be #1 in the US News Rankings? The Data, Bill Henderson reports the following:
My back of the envelope calculations suggest that a check for $350 million ought to be enough to produce enough endowment income [for Stanford] to eclipse Yale in the US News rankings. This assumes that the money is used for things like books, more faculty, and higher salaries for everyone. If the money is spent on student scholarships, however, Stanford would need a check for roughly $1.8 billion to be #1. Again, these are the idiosyncrasies of the dominant method of law school rankings.
Providing a high quality education at an affordable cost is not the way to improve a law school's ranking. From the above-linked ABA Special Report:
1. The current methodology tends to increase the costs of legal education for students. As a recent study by the United States Government Accountability Office has suggested, the U.S. News methodology arguably punishes a school that provides a high quality education at an affordable cost. Because low-cost law schools report a lower expenditure per student than higher cost schools, it is difficult for low tuition schools to top the rankings. A school that works hard to hold down costs may indeed find itself falling in the rankings relative to a peer that increases tuition above the rate of inflation each year. U.S. Gov’t Accountability Office, GAO-10-20, Higher Education: Issues Related to Law School Cost and Access (Oct. 2009).
2. The current methodology tends to discourage the award of financial aid based upon need. Because median LSAT score and median UGPA are so important to the current rankings, law schools have largely abandoned other measures of merit or need in awarding financial aid. This can have the effect of shifting financial aid to those students with LSAT scores that will assist a school in achieving its target median for rankings purposes. The result is that students with the greatest financial need often are relegated to heavy borrowing to attend law school.
Henderson ends his post with the following comment:
The legal profession, especially our students, have some big problems at the moment. And society's are even larger. The best law school is one that prepares its students to solve these problems. This requires a careful balance of innovative teaching and scholarship. The U.S. News rankings don't capture these metrics. In fact, they obscure them and create incentives for truly destructive behavior. By and large the deans are trapped. From my own perspective, I don't think even one law school in the US News Tier 1 has reached even 10% of its potential to educate and solve problems. Too many one-professor silos. Too much ego.
That's the real lost opportunity cost. [JH]