Chicken, meet egg.

The ABA Journal is reporting (here) USNWR's reaction to being blamed, at least in part, for the frenzy to buy high UGPA and LSAT scores with merit scholarships. Last Sunday, the New York Times reported (here) that many of the students who received merit scholarships didn't retain those scholarships after the first year. The consequences of losing a merit scholarship at an expensive school can be dire. It's true that the USNWR rankings don't cause students to lose their scholarships. (The cause is a combination of a scholarship's requirements, the grading curve, and the individual student's abilities–as well as any particular personal crisis that the student might be having during the first year.) It's equally true that schools are buying "high-numbers" students as a way to improve their rankings, given how much UGPA and LSAT figures can drive the rankings (here) and how few other ways there are to game the system. It's really difficult to affect the peer and lawyers/judges rankings (notwithstanding all of the glossy brochures that we all get in the fall); in this economic environment, placing students in real jobs at graduation is also really difficult. Bar passage isn't a large enough factor in the rankings. What does that leave? Ah, yes: "the numbers." I can't remember a time before the rankings. (I can't remember a lot of things, though, so I'm not worried about this particular lapse in my memory.) At some earlier point, didn't we select our students based on our predictions of the applicants' success in our schools? We used UGPAs and LSATs for those predictions, but we also used non-numerical predictors of academic success. Schools may still use those, but they sure do pay attention to how "the numbers" are going to look at matriculation. No matter how we admitted students before, "the numbers" and the USNWR rankings are now officially a chicken-egg problem.

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