Student Quality as Measured by LSAT Scores: Migration Patterns in the U.S. News Rankings Era
This study examines the change in entering class median LSAT, a key input into the U.S. News & World Report rankings, between 1993 and 2004. Using multivariate regression analysis, the authors model several factors that can influence the direction and magnitude of this change. The study presents six specific findings: (1) the market for high LSAT students is divided into two segments that operate under different rules; (2) initial starting position is a strong predictor of the future gain or loss in LSAT scores; (3) the allure of the high-end corporate law firms appears to cause a significant portion of students to discount the importance of rankings in favor of locational advantages related to the regional job market; (4) students will pay a tuition premium to attend elite law schools but, when deciding among non-elite schools, are willing to forgo a higher ranked school for lower tuition, thus producing a measurable gain in median LSAT scores for lower priced, non-prestigious law schools; (5) there is little or no association between change in lawyer/judge and academic reputation and median LSAT scores, and (6) two well-known gaming strategies for driving up median LSAT scores appear to work. Drawing upon these results, the authors suggest that the current rankings competition among law schools has all the hallmarks of a positional arms race that undermines social welfare. The authors outline the emerging equilibrium in which non-elite schools engage in costly strategies to boost their reputations while elite law schools are able to further leverage their positional advantage. Because this dynamic spawns rapidly escalating costs in the form of higher tuition, continuation of the ranking tournament threatens the long-term viability of the current model of legal education. The authors conclude with four specific recommendations to law school deans and the editors of U.S. News & World Report.