Thursday, October 17, 2013

Understanding Trends in Demographics of Law Students -- Part Two

Trends in LSAT Profiles of Applicants and Matriculants

In looking at trends over the last 12 years, there are two relevant time frames due to changes in how LSAC reported data.  Between 2002 and 2009, the LSAC’s annual National Decision Profiles were based on the average LSAT scores of applicants and matriculants.  From 2010 to the present, the National Decision Profiles were based on the highest LSAT scores of applicants and matriculants.  This post compares trends in LSAT profiles between 2002 and 2009 with trends between 2010 and 2013, noting that the latter period not only has seen a decline in enrollment but also has seen a significant weakening of the overall LSAT profile of first-years.

Changes in LSAT Profiles from 2002-2009 Using Average LSAT

The following chart shows the difference in LSAT composition of first-years in three cycles between 2001-02 and 2008-09.

Matriculants by LSAT Category (Reflecting Average LSAT) 2002-2009

                            165+                        150-164           <150                Total

2001-02               5,889                       30,100             9,097               45,086

2004-05               7,447                       32,007             6,036               45,490

2008-09               7,652                       31,991             8,943               48,586

In the three years between 2002 and 2005, applications grew by roughly 5,000, to roughly 95,000, with growth among those with an average LSAT of 165+ and an average LSAT of 150-164, and a modest decline among those with an average LSAT of <150.  Law schools matriculated only 400 more first-years in 2005 than in 2002, but there were roughly 3,050 fewer first-year students with average LSATs <150, with 1,900 more first years with average LSATs of 150-164 and roughly 1,550 more with average LSATs of 165+.  This three-year period saw strengthening of the LSAT profile of first-year students.

Four years later, with an applicant pool that had declined to nearly 87,000, however, law schools enrolled over 3,000 additional first-year students, 2,900 of whom had average LSATs of <150.  Virtually all of the growth in first-years between 2005 and 2009, therefore, was comprised of students at the lower end of the LSAT profile. 

Nonetheless, in comparison with the 2002 first-years, the 2009 first-years included slightly fewer students with an average LSAT of <150 (down 154 – 1.7%) and larger populations of students with average LSATs of 165+ (up 1,763 – nearly 30% more) and with average LSATs of 150-164 (up 1,891 – or roughly 6.3% more).  In 2009, therefore, the average LSAT profile of all first-years, while less robust than in 2005, was still more robust than in 2002.

Between 2004 and 2008, the ABA approved nine new law schools (with fall 2009 first-year enrollment in parentheses) – Atlanta’s John Marshall (211) and Western State (188) in 2005, Liberty (119), Faulkner (150) and Charleston (241) in 2006, Phoenix (272) in 2007, and Elon (121), Drexel (156) and Charlotte (276) in 2008.  The first-year enrollment of these nine schools in Fall 2009 totaled 1,734, roughly 60% of the growth in matriculants with average LSATs of < 150 between 2005 and 2009.  While many of the first-year students at these schools had LSATs of greater than 150, these schools took students who might have gone to other schools and increased the overall demand for applicants with average LSATs of <150.

Changes in LSAT Profiles from 2010-2013

The following chart focuses on the last three admissions cycles and the current admission cycle, covering the period in which the LSAC National Decision Profiles were based on each applicant’s highest LSAT score. 

Applicants and Matriculants Across Three LSAT Categories Based on Highest LSAT from 2010 to 2013

Adm. Cycle         Total     Total    Apps.   Mat.     Apps.      Mat.       Apps.   Mat.

                            Apps.    Mat.*   165+    165+   150-164 150-164    <150   <150

Fall 2010            87912   49719   12177   9477    47722     32862      26548   7013

Fall 2011            78474   45616   11190   8952     41435     29220      24396   7101

Fall 2012            67925   41422    9196    7571    34653      25425     22089    7906

Fall 2013**        59426   38900    7496    6300    30263      24000     20569    8200

*Note that the total matriculants number is greater than the sum of the matriculants across the three categories in any given year because the total matriculants number includes non-standard test-takers and those without an LSAT.

**The Fall 2013 numbers represent estimates based on the number of applicants in each category and an assumption that 2013 saw another slight increase in the percentage of applicants from each LSAT category who matriculated (consistent with increases in the two previous years in response to the decreasing applicant pool).

During this period, the number of applicants declined by 28,000, or over 32%, but the number of applicants with a highest LSAT of 165+ declined by 38%, and the number with a highest LSAT of 150-164 declined by 36.5%, while the number with a highest LSAT of <150 declined by only 22.5%.  Thus, the pool of applicants is not only smaller in the 2012-13 admissions cycle as compared to 2009-10, but it is “weaker” in terms of the LSAT profile.  

The number of matriculants in the top two LSAT categories also declined significantly between Fall 2010 and Fall 2012, while the number of matriculants in the bottom LSAT category actually grew. 

The number of matriculants whose highest LSAT score was 165+ fell from 9,477 in 2010 to 7,571 in 2012, a decline of over 20%, while the percentage of applicants in this category who became matriculants increased from 78% to 80% to 82% over that period.  If we estimate that 84% of the 2013 applicants with a highest LSAT of 165+ matriculate, then we can anticipate roughly 6300 matriculants for Fall 2013 with a highest LSAT of 165+, a drop of nearly 33% since 2010. 

The number of matriculants whose highest LSAT score was 150-164 fell from 32,862 in 2010 to 25,425 in 2012, a decline of nearly 23%, while the percentage of applicants in this category who became matriculants increased from 69% to 70.5% to 73% over that period. If we estimate that roughly 79% of the applicants with a highest LSAT of 150-164 matriculate, then we can anticipate roughly 24,000 matriculants for Fall 2013 with an LSAT of 150-164, a decline of roughly 27% since Fall 2010. 

Meanwhile, the number of matriculants whose highest LSAT score was <150 grew from roughly 7,000 to over 7,900, an increase of roughly 13%, while the percentage of applicants in this category who became matriculants increased from 26% to 29% to 36% over that period. If we estimate that roughly 40% of the applicants with a highest LSAT of <150 matriculate, then we can anticipate roughly 8,200 matriculants with an LSAT of <150 for Fall 2013, an increase of roughly 17% since Fall 2010. 

Percentage of First-Years from Each LSAT Category Using Highest LSAT-- 2010-2013*

            165+               150-164           <150

2010    0.191               0.661               0.141

2011    0.196               0.641               0.156

2012    0.183               0.614              0.191

2013    0.162               0.617              0.211

*The sum of the percentages in any given year will be slightly less than 1.00 because the denominator -- total matriculants -- includes matriculants with non-standard LSAT and those with no LSAT.

This table shows that if my estimates for 2013 are roughly accurate, while the percentage of matriculants whose highest LSAT score was 165+ in the first-year class has declined between Fall 2010 and Fall 2013 by roughly 16% (from 19% to 16%) and the percentage of matriculants whose highest LSAT was 150-164 has declined by roughly 6% (from 66% to 62%) the percentage of matriculants whose highest LSAT was <150 has increased 50% (from 14% to 21%).

Adjusting from Highest LSAT to Average LSAT to Compare 2002 and 2013

The change in the 2009-10 admissions cycle to using highest LSAT rather than average LSAT resulted in an increase in matriculants with scores of 165+ of roughly 1,800 between Fall 2009 and Fall 2010.  Given that there had been a modest increase in the number of matriculants with an average LSAT of 165+ between 2008 and 2009 (an increase of roughly 600, from 7,023 to 7,652), it might be fair to assume that there would have been another modest increase in the number of matriculants with an average LSAT of 165+ between 2009 and 2010 given the challenging economic environment at the time and the continued growth in applications between 2009 and 2010.  Assume then that of the 1,800 additional matriculants with scores of 165+, 400 would have been included in the category if we were still using an average LSAT of 165+ rather than the highest LSAT of 165+.  That would suggest that to estimate the number of matriculants with an average LSAT of 165+ in 2010, it might make sense to subtract 1,400 matriculants from the number of matriculants with a highest LSAT of 165+ in 2010 and then for the next three years apply the same percentage reduction as reflected in the number of those with a highest LSAT of 165+ over those three years.

The change to highest LSAT rather than average LSAT also resulted in a drop in the number of matriculants with an LSAT <150 between 2009 and 2010 of roughly 1,900 matriculants. Notably, the number of applicants and matriculants with an average LSAT <150 had grown slightly between 2007 and 2009 (applicants from 29,123 to 29,926, matriculants from 7,013 to 7,906).  Nonetheless, to err on the conservative side, assume that the number of matriculants with an average LSAT <150 actually may have declined in Fall 2010 from Fall 2009 rather than continuing to increase modestly.  Assume it would have declined by roughly 5% or 400 (rather than 1,900).  That would mean that to estimate the number of matriculants with an average LSAT of <150 in Fall 2010, we would need to add to the number with a highest LSAT of <150 roughly 1,500 more matriculants and then for the next three years apply the same percentage increase as reflected in the number of those with a highest LSAT of <150 over those three years.

Using these assumptions, the estimated number of first-years with an average LSAT of 165+ would fall to roughly 5,400 as of Fall 2013, while the estimated number of first-years with an average LSAT of <150 would rise to over 9,800 in Fall 2013. 

If the estimates above are close to accurate, then the number of Fall 2013 matriculants with an average LSAT score of 165+ represents roughly 14% of Fall 2013 matriculants (a slightly higher percentage than in Fall 2002), while the number of Fall 2013 matriculants with an average LSAT of <150 represents over 25% of Fall 2013 matriculants (a much higher percentage than in Fall 2002).  The following chart shows the percentage of matriculants for the period from 2002-2013 taking into account the estimates set forth in the preceding paragraph regarding the number of matriculants with an average LSAT in each range over the period from 2010-2013. 

  Image1

This graph shows that the percentage of matriculants with an average LSAT of 165+ has varied between roughly 13% and roughly 17% percent over the period from 2002-2013, and appears to have returned in Fall 2013 to a percentage only slightly higher than where it was in Fall 2002.  By contrast, this chart also shows that the percentage of matriculants with an average LSAT of <150 had varied between roughly 19% and roughly 13% until the Fall 2012 and Fall 2013 groups of matriculants, when the percentages increased to roughly 22% (in 2012) and over 25% (in 2013).  While this graph does not include the percentage of matriculants with average LSATs of 150-164, one can infer that percentage as the difference between 100% and the sum of the 165+ percentage and the <150 percentage.  For the period between 2002 and 2011, this generally hovered between 65% and 70%, but in the last two years it has fallen closer to 60%.

This shift in LSAT profile is further evidenced by changes in LSAT profiles among first-year entering classes between 2010 and 2013.  For Fall 2010, there were only nine law schools with a median LSAT of 149 or lower (using highest LSAT for reporting purposes).  For Fall 2011, there were 14 law schools with a median LSAT of 149 or lower.  For Fall 2012, there were 21 law schools with a median LSAT of 149 or lower.  That number may grow to nearly 30 when official data is published next spring on the Fall 2013 entering class.  

If one uses the LSAT profile as an indicator of the “strength” of a given class of first-year students, and uses the framework set forth above for looking at the LSAT profile, then in the last three years we not only have seen first-year enrollment shrink by roughly 10,000 students, but also have seen a significant “weakening” of the LSAT profile.  In terms of LSAT profile, the Fall 2013 entering class is almost certainly the weakest of any class going back to Fall 2002. This may impact the classroom experience at some law schools and may impact bar passage results when the Fall 2013 entering class graduates in 2016.

Why the Differential Response to Market Signals by Different Populations of Prospective Law Students?

What might explain the extent to which different populations of prospective law students have responded to market signals in such different ways, with those from elite college and universities and those with higher LSATs turning away from law school more than those from less elite colleges and universities and those with lower LSATs?  In Part Three I will explore some possible explanations.

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

Data on legal education, Scholarship on legal education, Structural change | Permalink

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