Friday, April 16, 2010

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

It's that time of year again. I'm not referring to the filing deadline for federal taxes. After all, given the employment status of many of this blog's readers, I assume income taxes aren't exactly a pressing issue for most of us. (I guess, it'll be up to others to provide the revenue to fund the federal student loan program that helps prop the higher education cartel.)

While April 15 is usually associated with taxes, this year it's also the date US News and World Report released the 2011 Graduate School Rankings on its website.

Like with most other facets of the graduate school swindle, an established institution will profit from this nation's obsession with higher education while the customers will end up both poorer and not particularly better informed.

To be sure, the rankings will get a significant amount of attention. All of the academics will provide the obligatory condemnation of the rankings as an imprecise tool of measuring the quality of their programs. The schools that get particularly shafted will object even more vociferously while doing their best to spin their decline in the rankings to students - both current and prospective. The schools that are promoted will wear their elevated status as a badge of honor (only to condemn the very same rankings the following year should their fortunes change).

Of course, the law school rankings (and higher education rankings in general) are garbage. The methodology is too subjective. The weights given to certain variables are questionable, and most of the self reported data are likely distortions if not outright lies.

This is to say nothing of the meaninglessness of the actual ranks themselves. What benefit does a student at the 53rd best law school enjoy that a student at the 75th best law school does not?

Sure, there are some general categories. The so-called T-14, the Top 25, etc., but even these general categories cease to be particularly important once you go down the food chain.

Here's the Esq. Never Rankings:

Probably Worth the Money: Harvard, Yale, Stanford

Possibly Worth the Money: The rest of the T-14

Don't Waste Your Money: Everybody Else


What's absurd, however, is that prospective law students will actually make their decisions on where to enroll based upon this nonsense. Some will forgo scholarships just so they can say they went to a ranked school (even if it may not be ranked next year). Some will latch onto a better ranked "national school" because the local school won't offer the same "bragging rights". Everyone will think/hope that their school will eventually climb in the rankings (and thus be a better investment) even though any such movement will do nothing for them.

Let's take a look at this year's rankings to further understand what a sham they are.

The full rankings are only available via a subscription, but you can find a copy of the tier one schools here and the tier two schools here.

Look how volatile the rankings are - particularly in the second tier. Just a couple years ago, Temple was pushing towards the top 50, now it's tied with Seton Freakin' Hall. Marquette wasn't even invited to the party this year as it fell into the third tier.

As for schools that saw significant gains, Pepperdine (while actually decently ranked last year) and Miami were pretty much towards the lower end of the 2nd tier when I was applying, and now they are knocking on the top 50's door.

If that doesn't seem that amazing, then let me pose this query: Whose souls did Hofstra and Chapman have to sell in order to make the top 100 this year?

Admittedly, the 1st tier is a little bit more stable, but let's take a look at the employment figures US News lists. We're really expected to believe that with one exception, no fewer than 70% of the class at all of the tier one schools were employed at graduation? Most even boast employment stats in the 80's and 90's.

The 9 month employment stats are even more absurd. All of the top 50 schools claim to effectively have full employment at 9 months out. Is this true? Not based upon the e-mails and comments I receive from first many first tier students.

The University of Utah even has the gall to claim absolute, full employment at 9 months out. Funny isn't this the same school that admitted it juiced the stats (err, made a mistake) just this year regarding its average starting salary? I assume this is another "mistake".

The second tier employment figures are equally unbelievable. All the second tier toilets claim to also have full employment at 9 months out. This includes the schools that could just have easily been classified as third tier schools.

What's more despicable is that US News and World Report allows about a dozen of these dumps to still be ranked in the second tier even if they are unwilling to provide their data for employment at graduation. Apparently, they can't handle the truth - Nevertheless, US News doesn't seem to let that affect their rankings too much.

This is not to say that the schools that do submit data are exactly trying to play an honest game. I guess omitting data is better than lying about it.

I'm pretty incredulous that 80% of graduates from Seton Hall and DePaul had jobs at graduation. Almost all of the other schools claim about 2/3rds of their students had jobs in hand before taking the bar. I'll personally EAT a copy US News' "Guide to the Best Grad Schools" if Chapman can prove that 90% of its students walked the stage at graduation employed as attorneys.

The one school that may have actually honestly reported this data is U Missouri, which reports only 1/2 of its students graduated with promises of employment. Its reward? Falling from 65 to 93 in the rankings. Honesty doesn't pay in the law school scam game. I'm sure they'll never make that mistake again.

Even if the data that is reported is technically true (a dubious assertion), the rankings and statistics are still garbage. Is a school that jumps (or drops) even more than 10 slots in a given year really that much better or worse than it used to be? There's nothing stopping a school from being much better ranked or even being knocked out of the top 100 in a few years based upon some quirks in the data reported or some unscientific rating of it's reputation.

Moreover, the employment data is a joke. For example, most schools in New Jersey can just throw their graduates into year long clerkships and claim they're employed at graduation even though this make work scheme will leave them destitute the year after. Employment at 9 months out is meaningless. It certainly doesn't mean almost all students are employed as attorneys within a year of graduation. It means that they have some job - any job. Working at Burger King, doing a temporary stint for the Census Bureau, or working at the local "gentleman's club" all count towards that figure.

What does it mean when a school is ranked in the 60's or 70's (or virtually anywhere else for that matter), claims that 70% are employed at graduation, and 95% at 9 months out? It means the school is a waste of money, is run by liars, and that you can always fall back on jobs you could get with or without a GED.

10 comments:

  1. unemployedHYSgrad2008April 16, 2010 at 10:18 AM

    hey esq never,

    loved this post...seriously burst out laughing at the part about working at burger king and gentleman's club counting as employment.

    can we sue law schools for their false employment statistics? I mean seriously, I think every one of them, even harvard and yale, manipulate it. its a damn scam.

    -fellow unemployed jd

    ReplyDelete
  2. Re: New Jersey clerkships

    How right you are. I can't even get no-fault chop shops to send me rejection letters.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks for the plug, EN! I was actually going to post that on your blog. Yes, the University of Utah admitted to an "error" on its placement and salary figures back in November 2009. ($omehow, the$e error$ alway$ benefit the $chool$.) The school is now ranked 42nd. Ooh. It's kind of like finishing a 5K in 42nd place. (Actually, finishing a 5K is a bigger achievement than graduating from this dump.)

    Lesson 1: honesty DOES NOT pay, when it comes to reporting figures to USNWR.

    Lesson 2: on the flip side, manipulating, distorting, and flat-out lying about placement and salary does pay off.

    Remember, there are no audits of these SELF-REPORTED numbers! There is opportunity and motive for the schools to lie - plus little chance of getting caught and ZERO probability of getting punished! Do a risk-reward analysis, apologists.

    ReplyDelete
  4. And, yes, rankings after about the top 14-20 schools don't really matter. And that is being generous. After that, you should attend the cheapest possible law school (tuition and living expenses) you can get into - if you simply MUST go.

    EN is correct. What makes Chapman or Pitt, both second tier sewers, better than Third Tier Drake or other TTTs? This is just a numbers game. These rankings are simply a marketing scheme. "Yes, we are in the fourth tier, but our Writing Program was ranked 3rd in the nation by US News!"

    Don't be fooled. Even the schools that splashed into the third tier, or dropped 15 spaces WILL RAISE TUITION!

    ReplyDelete
  5. As a 2008 DePaul alum, I can personally attest to the fact that those employment stats are completely fictional! There are plenty of folks out there that never got legal jobs--I have friends who are tending bar and teaching salsa dancing to make ends meet. The class of 2009 is even worse off, and this year, virtually all the kids on law review are all unemployed. How dare DePaul try to pawn off these lies!

    ReplyDelete
  6. The scores are input based, not output based. And then, certain incoming student designations do not get computed into the scoring system. That should be all you need to know to reach a conclusion as to the validity of the rankings.

    ReplyDelete
  7. "Marquette wasn't even invited to the party this year as it fell into the third tier."

    Ironic - considering Marquette just dropped $80 million to build this ridiculous monstrosity of a law school.

    http://law.marquette.edu/ecksteinhall/plans/unique-features.html

    Don't worry, it's on track to open up this fall!

    ReplyDelete
  8. It makes more sense to take a big scholarship at a T3 or T4 than to even pay half tuition at a T2 or bottom T1. The rankings really don't help much at all, actually even the bottom of the T14 especially outside of their regions.

    This is a truly worthless degree. Law schools pretend that government jobs are an option, as they claim the government is not as interested in grades and the school, but the competition for these jobs is so absurd that nobody can count on this at all. I've been applying for years for government positions and have gotten nothing.

    State hiring generally takes well over a year, federal government they'll get back to you sooner but it may still take you that time period to get clearance. In the meantime, what are you going to be doing?

    And that's if you get these jobs, again, that is unlikely. You're not just competing with other law grads, but hundreds upon thousands of other graduate degree holders as well as people with experience in the job.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I don't think that lack of employment is something unique to law right now. The recession is hitting the entire country. Also, the schools aren't really doing anything differently than they have for the past century.

    ReplyDelete
  10. No. High unemployment abounds. Nevertheless, the problem with the ROI began before the recession (numerous grads ending up in doc review and PI chop shops).

    While other fields are hurting, you'll find far more listings for programmers, marketing associates, and financial analysts than attorneys.

    Law schools are doing some things differently such as pumping out more JD's and charging much higher tuition. What hasn't changed as that low level law school are far too focused on theory rather than conferring any practical knowledge onto their graduates.

    ReplyDelete

 
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