Friday, October 11, 2013

Understanding Trends in Demographics of Law Students – Part One

Analysis of Differential Declines in Law School Applicants Among Top-240 Feeder Schools

Some people recently have noted the decline in applications to law school from graduates of relatively elite colleges and universities - here and  hereThis suggests that different populations of potential applicants to law school are responding differently to market signals about the cost of legal education and the diminished employment prospects for law school graduates in recent years.  

In this blog posting, I analyze the changes in applications among the LSAC's Top 240 Feeder Schools between 2010 and 2012, documenting the extent to which the response to market signals about legal education has been different among graduates of elite colleges and universities when compared with graduates of less elite colleges and universities.  In Part Two, I will look at a different set of data regarding changes in LSAT profiles of applicants.  In Part Three, I will offer some possible explanations for the different responses to market signals among different groups of applicants.

Overview

Between 2010 and 2012, the total number of applicants from the Top 240 Feeder Schools fell from 55,818 to 42,825.  In both years, the Top 240 Feeder Schools were responsible for roughly 63% of the total pool of applicants (63.5% of 87,900 in 2010 and 63.1% of 67,900 in 2012).  But the decline in applications was not uniform across all of the Top 240 Feeder Schools.  There are a few different ways one can look at this information to get a sense of the different responses among different populations of potential applicants. 

Differential Declines Among Feeder Schools with Law Schools Ranked in Different Tiers

First, one can look at declines across the Top 240 Feeder Schools that have law schools.

One might surmise that potential applicants who are graduates of colleges and universities with a law school might be particularly well aware of the increasing costs of legal education and the challenging employment environment for recent law school graduates and assume that feeder schools with law schools would generally see similar declines in applications.  In fact, however, the percentage decline in applications between 2010 and 2012 varied significantly by the ranking of the law school at the feeder school.

Among feeder schools with law schools ranked between 1-50 in the most recent USNews rankings, the average percentage decline in applicants between Fall 2010 and Fall 2012 was 28.08%.  Among feeder schools with law schools ranked between 51-100, the average percentage decline in applicants between Fall 2010 and Fall 2012 was 20.27%.  Among feeder schools with law schools ranked between 100-146, the average percentage decline in applicants was 18.14%.  But among feeder schools with law schools that are ranked alphabetically, the average percentage decline in applicants was only 3.31%.   

Given that most of the top ranked law schools are at colleges and universities that also are considered elite colleges and universities, and most of the alphabetically ranked law schools are at colleges and universities that are not considered elite colleges and universities, this analysis suggests that graduates of elite colleges and universities are responding to the market signals regarding legal education differently than graduates of less elite college and universities.  (This may seem particularly paradoxical, given that the percentage decline in applicants generally is greater at colleges and universities with more highly ranked law schools (whose graduates generally experience more promising employment outcomes) while the percentage decline in applicants is lowest at colleges and universities with less highly ranked law schools (whose graduates generally experience less promising employment outcomes.))

Comparisons of Outlier Schools – Those Schools More than One Standard Deviation from the Mean

Second, one can look at “outlier” schools and see how negative outliers compare to positive outliers.  The average percentage decline in applicants across the Top 240 Feeder Schools between 2010 and 2012 was 19.76%.  The standard deviation was 18.67%.  How do those schools more than one standard deviation from the mean compare with each other?

There are a total of 13 schools that saw a decline in applicants between 2010 and 2012 putting them below the mean by more than one standard deviation – schools with a decline in applications greater than 38.44%.  There are a total of 26 schools that saw an increase in applications or such a modest decline in applications that their increase/decline was more than one standard deviation above the mean – a decline of less than 1.09% or an increase.  How do these schools compare? 

Eight of the 13 feeder schools that saw the most significant declines in applications had a law school with an average rank of 69.  (These schools include NYU (6), Virginia (7), Cornell (13), George Mason (41), Marquette (94), Akron (119), Loyola (New Orleans) (126), and Univ. of San Fran. (144). Four of the eight were top-50 law schools, while none were alphabetically ranked.) 

Thirteen of the 26 feeder schools that saw the least significant declines in applications (or saw increases in applications) had a law school, including four that were ranked alphabetically.  Among just the nine law schools in this category that are ranked, the average rank is 104.  (These schools include Denver (64), UNLV (68), Loyola (Chicago) (76), Rutgers (91), Florida International (105), Wyoming (113), CUNY (132), Southern Illinois (140), and Suffolk (144), along with Florida A & M, North Carolina Central, Nova Southeastern, and Southern (all alphabetical).  Notably, only four of the thirteen were ranked in the top-100 law schools (none in the top-50).)

Again, in this analysis, with a few exceptions, those feeder schools that saw significant declines in applicants generally represent a more elite slice of American colleges and universities, while those with the most nominal declines in applicants (or increases in applicants) generally represent a less elite slice of American colleges and universities.

Outliers More Broadly – Comparing Schools with Declines Greater than 30% and Less than 10%

Third, if one wanted to look at a broader pool of feeder schools at the bottom and the top, one could look at all schools down 30% or more in applicants and all schools that were down 10% or less in applicants between 2010 and 2012 (roughly 10% above and below the mean), two sets that account for nearly half of the Top 240 Feeder Schools.

There were 68 schools down 30% or more in applicants, 46 of which had a law school, of which 29 were ranked in the top-50, with only one school ranked alphabetically.  The average rank of the 45 numerically ranked law schools was 48.  The other 22 feeder schools in this category include several highly regarded schools – including, for example, Rice, Vassar, Miami University, Brown, Amherst, Johns Hopkins and Princeton.

There were 51 schools with a decrease in applicants of 10% or less, 25 of which had law schools, only two of which were ranked in the top-50, with six schools ranked alphabetically.  The average rank of the 19 numerically ranked law schools was 94.  The other 26 feeder schools in this category include mostly less elite colleges and universities – including, for example, Kenesaw State University, University of Texas at San Antonio, and Florida Gulf Coast University, along with University of Phoenix and Kaplan University.

Conclusion

All three approaches to analyzing the changes in applicants among the Top-240 Feeder Schools point in the same direction.  Graduates of elite colleges and universities are opting not to apply to law school at a greater rate than graduates of less elite colleges and universities.  One might suppose that this translates to a greater decline in the number of applicants and matriculants with really high LSATs (165 or above) as compared to those with relatively low LSATs (149 and below).  In Part 2, I explore whether this supposition is accurate.

Posted by Jerry Organ

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/legalwhiteboard/2013/10/understanding-trends-in-demographics-of-law-students-part-one.html

Data on legal education, Scholarship on legal education | Permalink

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