There’s a good piece in the NYT this morning on how law schools hand out merit scholarships to significantly more students than will end up being able to retain them, given traditional law school grading practices (Paul Caron has a useful summary of the article here). This practice, which is quite new — a generation ago law schools handed out almost no merit scholarships — is driven, like so many other questionable things law schools do, by the rankings game. The GPA and test scores of entering students account for nearly a quarter of a school’s ranking, so, just as in the case of graduate employment figures, there’s a powerful incentive to game the numbers.
Of course in AynRandLand none of this is necessarily a problem:
The ABA seems unaware of the issues raised by merit grants. Its annual survey of law schools is granular enough to ask for the number of hours the library is open, but it doesn’t ask how many students lose their scholarships each year.
The schools already know that number. Why not publish it?
“That is a good question, a legitimate question,” said Bucky Askew, who directs the ABA division that accredits schools. “It hasn’t been an issue brought to our attention. Nobody has written us, contacted us, to say, ‘This needs to be on the table.’ ”
Why is merit scholarship retention not part of the U.S. News data haul? “The main reason is that we haven’t thought about it,” said Robert Morse, who oversees the rankings. “It’s not a great answer, but it’s an honest answer.”
Then Mr. Morse thought about it. “This isn’t meant to be sarcastic,” he said, “but these students are going to law school and they need to learn to read the fine print.”
In other words, caveat emptor, as they say in first year contracts.
On a related note, it’s good to see that a less laissez faire attitude taken by students at one Top Ten law school has successfully shaken some money out of the pockets of not only the school’s administration, but also from some of the faculty.