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USNews Part-Time Rankings:
A Tempest in a Tea Pot

I am beyond irked at this one, folks. I feel like someone promised me a great present and gave me a shiny new penny.

What USNews has to say about the "methodology" of the rankings is better now (March of 2011) than it was when it was first posted in 2009, but it still falls short of any definition of methodology I've ever seen.

Part-time Law School Rankings Methodology

"The ranking of 80 part-time law school programs is based on a weighted average of four measures of quality.

"Quality assessment (weighted by .50): In fall 2010, deans and three faculty members at each school were asked to rate programs from marginal (1) to outstanding (5); 55 percent responded and scores for each school were averaged."

  • Did we ask professors at law schools with part-time programs, or at all law schools?
  • Since part-time programs don't have different faculty or courses as full-time programs, what would professors at other schools use to rank them?

"Selectivity (weighted by .275): For part-time students entering in 2010, this measure combines median LSAT scores (81.8 percent of this indicator) and undergraduate GPAs (18.2 percent)."

  • Why is median LSAT worth way more in a part-time program than it is in a full-time program?
    • For full-time programs, LSAT counts for .125 of the total score and GPA for .10, for a 5/4 ratio;
    • For part time programs, the percentages above give about a 9/2 ratio. Instead of being just over half, LSAT is FOUR AND A HALF TIMES AS IMPORTANT!

"Part-time focus (weighted by .225): An index was created from data reported by the schools about their 2010 part-time programs. Factors used in the creation of this index include the size of part-time first-year sections; the size of part-time first-year small sections; and the number of positions filled by part-time students in seminars, simulation courses, faculty-supervised clinical courses, field placements, law journals, interschool skills competitions, and independent study."

  • Does that translate to you as "we did whatever we felt like"?

"Schools received credit for reporting data and additional credit for surpassing a threshold value in the factors."

  • Doesn't that mean "we rewarded law schools that played our game and punished those that didn't."?

Now here's the punch line:

Where's the fourth "measure of quality"? .5 +.275 + .225 = 1, or 100% so the fourth "measure," whatever it was, was weighted zero. LOL!

Wow! If I were as vague as this in explaining how I compile my data, USNews wouldn't be quoting me in their books.

You want the actual ranking? Go pay them $15. Until they give a level of precision to the word "methodology" that the word itself implies, I'm not dignifying the gimmick — for that's the best it deserves to be called — further.

Radical Changes in Part-Time Programs

The new USNews rankings have so upset schools with part time programs that NOTHING you've read about part time programs, here or elsewhere, is reliable. There seem to be four responses to the issue so far.

  • Some schools are requiring the same numbers for full and part-time students, and you just choose whichever program you want;
  • Some are cutting their program in half, and only taking the higher numbers;
  • A variation is to cut the program by only taking people currently working full time in the law school's geographic area;
  • And a few are saying something unprintable and closing their part time program altogether!

In addition, the change in US News rankings has further hurt low-income applicants.

  • The commonest way to raise the medians of the part-time program was to divert money from diversity- and need-based grants and switch it to merit, often (but not always) defined by LSAT score.

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