Monday, September 12, 2011

Is U.S. News to Blame for High Law School Tuition?

Yes, according to Yihwan Kim in an article entitled Hidden Culprit Behind Law School Tuition Rates.  According to Mr. Kim,

"A close examination of the news giant's ranking methodology reveals a few questionable criteria.  First and foremost, US News weights "expenditures per student" by nearly 10% which makes this vague and ambiguous category five times more important in determining a law school's final ranking than more trivial considerations such as its students' bar passage rate.  Essentially, this means that schools are rewarded for decking out their libraries with expensive ergonomic furniture and starting up new capital projects - endeavors that may not necessarily benefit its cash-strapped students."

He concludes,

"Since the economy tanked a few years ago, law school rankings play an important role in determining whether students get jobs after they graduate.  Therefore, law schools are pressured into spending more every year instead of looking for smart ways to cut its budget and curb rising tuition rates.  If we are to see an end to the steadily rising costs of a legal education, US News must address its flawed methodology that encourages irresponsible spending practices at the students' expense."

I think that Mr. Kim is partially correct.  The pressures of U.S. News, especially the expenditure per student category, has an affect on law school spending.   In addition to what Mr. Kim has found, U.S. News affects law school spending in other ways.  For example, a law school may go after a big name scholar at a high cost, rather than a good teacher who costs less.  Similarly, law schools use merit scholarships to attract high credentialed students when that money might go to lowering tuition for all students.  Finally, law schools spend a lot of money on mailings to help them move up in the U.S. News ranks.

However, as we have written extensively on this blog, there are many sources of the current law school crisis.  U.S. News is part of the problem, but we can't blame everything on U.S. News.


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