U.S. News (& its loathed rankings)

Full-Time Law-School Application Inequality Up in 2016

In 2016 full-time law-school applicants showed more interest in fewer law schools, according to my modified Lorenz curve. The overall Gini coefficient is up as well.

A Lorenz curve measures the cumulative distribution of a quantity in order from the smallest recipient to the largest. Usually researchers use the distribution of income among households. I’ve modified the Lorenz curve according to the U.S. News and World Report rankings for the previous year because the rankings are an independent measurement of law-school eliteness as seen by LSAT takers and applicants roughly at the time that they apply. Here is what we see.

full-time-law-school-applications-adjusted-lorenz-curve

Compared to previous years, we can see that the curve has barely nudged to the right, indicating increased inequality among full-time law-school applications. This is predictable because we already know that more the 70 percent of the rise in applications can be attributed to U.S. News‘ static top 14 law schools.

A Lorenz curve can also be used to calculate a Gini coefficient, which is the area under the Lorenz curve divided by the total area of the right triangle representing a totally equal distribution of the quantity among the recipients. In 2015, the full-time applications Gini coefficient was .431, but this year it rose to .441, up 1 point. (These figures are irrespective of the U.S. News rankings.) I’ve written on calculating Gini coefficients recently here.

Last year I was surprised that application inequality was flat because I was convinced that everyone believed there was a shortage of applicants at elite law schools. This year, applicants trended back in that direction. Maybe it will accelerate into the future.

Information on this topic from previous years:

2016: Full-Time Matriculants Trickle Up

[2016-12-26: This post has been updated due to minor miscalculations.]

The ABA’s standard 509 information reports are out now. Unlike last year there is no need for preliminaries about the data. The names of the law schools line up for the most part, so users do not need to worry about combing around for Lincoln Memorial or some other new law school. They might, however, want to download reports for Hamline and William Mitchell because some calendar-year 2016 data were separately reported before the Mitchell|Hamline merger officially went into effect. As of now, there are no reports for Rutgers-Camden and Rutgers-Newark, so now Rutgers is one.

In calendar year 2016, there were 33,075 full-time matriculants to 201 ABA-accredited law schools, up 468 matriculants from 2015 (+1.4 percent). That year saw an 838-matriculant decline, so the crunch has reversed for the law schools. (These figures exclude the three law school in Puerto Rico, as I usually do.)

Full-time applicant acceptance rates are largely flat, except at the 90th percentile.

dispersion-of-full-time-law-school-applicant-acceptance-rates

Matriculant yields are up to 24.1 percent overall compared to 22.9 percent last year, but ultimately about 21 law schools account for half of the decline in matriculants since the last trough year, 2007, which I believe is a better comparison year for this measure than 2010, a peak year.

Meanwhile, application growth rates are still accelerating. At the median it’s flat.

dispersion-of-full-time-law-school-application-growth-rates

102 law schools saw a growth in applications, which is much higher than last year. First place goes to (and you’ll love this) … Indiana Tech (235.4 percent), which will close at the end of the academic year. It received 332 applications, extended only 128 offers, and admitted but 39 full-time students. Indiana Tech’s 75th percentile full-time applicant received a 152 on the LSAT. It preferred to close than accept 204 applicants (~60 percent). Numbers two and three for application growth were Florida (98.9 percent) and Concordia (71.0 percent).

Before anyone gets excited about rising law-school applications, though, I note that 72.5 percent of the rise can be attributed to U.S. News‘ top 14 law schools. Thus, things probably don’t look any better for most schools since last year. In the last two years, I’ve commented on the possibility that applicants believe that now is the best time to go to an elite law school, and while that sentiment dissipated last year, it’s back now for sure.

More on these topics later.

Here’s information on enrollments from prior years:

Full-Time Law-School Application Inequality Unchanged in 2015

Last year, I modified the Lorenz curve to measure the distribution of full-time law-school applications. A Lorenz curve measures the cumulative distribution of a quantity in order from the smallest recipient to the largest. Usually it’s the distribution of income among households. I’ve modified the Lorenz curve according to the U.S. News and World Report rankings for the previous year because the rankings are an independent measurement of law-school eliteness as seen by LSAT takers and applicants at the time that they apply.

The Lorenz curve can also be used to calculate the Gini coefficient, which is the area under the Lorenz curve divided by the total area of the right triangle representing a totally equal distribution of the quantity among the recipients.

I found last year that full-time application inequality had risen noticeably between 2009 and 2014. The Gini coefficient had shifted from 0.37 to 0.42, and the top 50 law schools captured half of all full-time applications—up about 5 percentage points from 2009. Finally, freestanding private law schools, and even among them for-profit law schools, lost only a small share of applications.

Repeating the analysis for 2015, the application distribution appears essentially unchanged.

Full-Time Law-School Applications (Adjusted) Lorenz Curve

If you can’t distinguish the 2015 Lorenz curve from the 2014 curve, that’s a feature, not a bug. The Gini coefficient rose from 0.427 to 0.429. Additionally, any shift in applications in favor of lower-ranked law schools, namely the 51-100s, is due in part to volatility and ties within the rankings. In fact, holding the rankings constant, law schools ranked 51-100 in 2014 saw only a 1 percent gain in application share in 2015, but the top 50 were largely unchanged.

I predicted interest in law school to become more unequal this year, but surprisingly it didn’t. Instead, there was a trivial shift in applications toward lower-ranked schools. Consequently, although the number of full-time applications fell 4.2 percent in 2015, the overall impact was felt proportionately among law schools. Notably, U.S. News‘ static top-14 law schools accounted for 40 percent of the total decline in full-time applications—in contrast to its ten percent gain against the application decline last year.

I interpret all this as mildly good news for law schools: Interest in legal education still fell, but the perception that non-elite law schools offer little to applicants appears to have softened. However, that might be little comfort to law schools whose budgets are deep in the red.

Law School Matriculant Crunch Coming to an End

That’s the most reasonable analysis one can make of the ABA’s Standard 509 Information Reports, which appeared on the Internet on December 15th.

Before the fun a few preliminaries:

  • Blessedly, the ABA chose to release all the data in spreadsheet form at once, making my life much easier. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
  • However, its GPA and LSAT scores spreadsheet omits a few law schools, includes others it shouldn’t, and throws some curve balls.
  • Excluded: Concordia, Lincoln Memorial, Penn State (Dickinson), Penn State (State College). (Note, as of this fall, the Penn States are two separate law schools, but as far as I’m concerned, its State College school was founded and accredited this year.)
  • Included: University of Dallas (not accredited yet)
  • Curve-balled: Rutgers (as one law school, along with entries for Camden and Newark), Atlanta’s John Marshall (Savannah) (subset of its parent), Cooley-Michigan (subset of all Cooley campuses), and William Mitchell and Hamline are still separate law schools, which might surprise people.

I haven’t parsed all the spreadsheets, but some contain similar bizarreness. Hopefully, no one who has reported on the data already has committed any errors as a result.

So…

In the 2015-16 academic year, there were 32,595 full-time matriculants to 205 ABA-accredited law schools, down 850 matriculants from 2014-15. That year saw a 1,228-matriculant decline, so the crunch is slowing down for the law schools. (These figures exclude the three law school in Puerto Rico, as I usually do.)

Full-time applicant acceptance rates are largely flat, except at the 90th percentile.

Dispersion of Full-Time Law School Applicant Acceptance Rates

Matriculant yields are up slightly as well (omitted), but ultimately about 26 law schools account for half of the decline in matriculants since the last trough year, 2007, which I believe is a better comparison year than 2010, which was a peak year.

Meanwhile, application growth rates are still accelerating.

Dispersion of Full-Time Law School Application Growth Rates

Nearly a quarter of law schools saw a growth in applications. First place goes to Lincoln Memorial (124.1 percent), rising like an undead menace despite the ABA’s initial denials of accreditation. Number two, which I think is fair to report given that Lincoln Memorial was only recently accredited, is Denver at 56.7 percent. I’m not quite sure how it pulled that off.

Last year, I discussed at length how U.S. News‘ top-twentyish law schools saw an unusual bounce in applications. Curiously, that phenomenon has been blunted. Last year the top fourteen received 72,769 applications, but this year they hauled in 66,982—the lowest since 2000, which was back when paper applications were all the rage. I hypothesized that would-be applicants believed that no one was applying to elite law schools, so their applications would succeed. Maybe that was right, maybe not, but regardless, I’m stumped as to why the application decline resumed for these schools.

Consequently, I haven’t seen any real surprises from the application data yet, but there’s more stuff to comb through, so stay tuned.

13 Law Schools Didn’t Report 2014 Graduate Debt to U.S. News, Again

[UPDATE: Seton Hall’s average graduate debt datum is now accounted for in this post, lowering the number of non-reporting law schools to 13 this year. Without altering the substantive points of the post, please consider the necessary changes having been made.]

The record was 14 last year, which was still too high.

Each year U.S. News ranks law schools based on how much debt their graduates take on. The figure excludes accrued interest, but it’s probably the best estimate of the cost of attendance at a particular law school. It’s also, unfortunately, the only source for this information as the ABA does not publicize it in the 509 Information Reports. Here’s this year’s list of absentees and their debt levels in their last reported year:

  • Arizona Summit – $190,471 (2015, can be found on the school’s Web site [Interestingly, no one took out private loans…])
  • New England – $132,246 (2014)
  • Seton Hall – $127,075 (2014)
  • Faulkner – $122,187 (2014)
  • Missouri (Kansas City) – $103,038 (2014)
  • Southern Illinois – $67,966 (2014)
  • Appalachian – $114,740 (2013)
  • Atlanta’s John Marshall – $142,515 (2013)
  • Florida A&M – $96,934 (2012)
  • La Verne – $112,628 (2013)
  • Rutgers-Camden – $93,990 (2013)
  • Southwestern – $147,976 (2013)
  • Texas Southern – $99,992 (2013)
  • WMU Cooley – $122,395 (2013)

I’m excluding the three Puerto Rico law schools and Widener Harrisburg because U.S. News usually does too. In point of fact, Belmont had 119 graduates last year, so it probably should have been included as well, but I’ll be lenient today. I’d hate to see the record broken.

These schools account for 3,361 3,076 graduates out of 43,118 (excl. Puerto Rico), or 8 7 percent of the total.

The unweighted average private law school graduate debt rose from $124,638 last year to $127,740 127,743 this year (2.4% 2.5%). For public law schools: $88,287 in 2013 to $89,471 in 2014 (1.3%). I haven’t QC-ed this year’s figures, but I’m confident they’re right.

Other amusing facts:

  • Kudos to Barry and District of Columbia for correctly reporting their graduates’ debt levels this year. In 2014, both schools reported what must have been their graduates’ debt for their final year.
  • I’m curious why some schools saw large leaps in debt, e.g. South Dakota (45%), Arkansas (Little Rock) (33%), Baylor (30%), Elon (22%), and Pace (20%). It doesn’t appear they blatantly misreported last year, but these are odd fluctuations, particularly given that some of these schools saw 15% drops in debt disbursed last year.
  • Big ol’ raspberry to Howard for reporting what must be its graduates’ final year of debt: $24,021. Last year, it reported $123,485.
  • Although the ABA hasn’t “acquiesced” yet, it’s nice to see Hamline’s numbers reported. I expected them to not appear.

That is all.

On The American Lawyer: Applying to Top Law Schools Disserved Many in 2014

Applying to Top Law Schools Disserved Many in 2014.”

It really is one of the most unusual things I’ve seen in my few years writing on legal education. Like, where did these applicants get it into their heads that U.S. News‘ darlings were desperate? Hope they did well though.

The U.S. News Law School Rankings Lorenz Curve

Following up on my post on the upswing in applications to U.S. News‘ top 20 law schools this year, I took a look at the percentage of full-time applications that are sent to the T-14: It’s ranged between 16-21 percent since 1999, which is quite disproportionate. It occurred to me that one could try to illustrate the distribution of applications by modifying the Lorenz curve with the U.S. News rankings.

Usually, a Lorenz curve measures the distribution of a phenomenon, like income, by arranging the cumulative proportion of households by the cumulative amount of their incomes. The more income (or wealth, or ice cream sandwiches, or whatever) some households have, the sharper the curve is at the far end of the distribution. The closer the curve is to a triangle, the more equal the distribution is. By taking the negative area between the curve and where the hypotenuse of the triangle is, and then dividing it by the total area of the triangle, one can determine the Gini coefficient, which you always read about but have no idea what it means.

I crafted a Lorenz curve for full-time law school applications for the 2009 to 2014 cycles using the previous year’s rankings, assuming that that’s what influences applicants. So for example applications for fall 2014 used the rankings released back in early 2013. I then sorted the percentages by ranking and then the highest percentages for ties.

Behold:

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

(If it wasn’t clear, the Gini coefficient is just area “A” divided by areas “A+B”.)

Although most of the reporting about law school applications has been about the declining total, this is the first look I know of at the shifts in the distribution. The important points that jump out are:

(a) “Application inequality” has grown quite noticeably in the last two years in favor of higher-ranked law schools. (Don’t expect any Occupiers or Elizabeth Warren to care.) Between 2012 and 2014, the top 20 captured an additional 6.1 percentage points.

(b) The rank-not-published/unranked/erstwhile tier 4 law schools have usually received about 15 percent of all applications over the last five years. They’ve lost about 2.2 percent of the total in the last two years.

(c) The top 50 law schools, whatever they were, have gone from getting 45 percent of all applications to half. That’s right, about half of all full-time applications go to just 50 law schools.

(d) It’s not shown, but for-profit law schools have never drawn more than 3.25 percent of all full-time applications. They’ve fallen to 2.52 percent in 2014. Freestanding private law schools’ share has dropped as well, but that’s largely because some of those schools are now affiliated with larger universities.

(e) You probably figured this out already, but the number one law school by application share is Georgetown, which is the safety school for the stars.

(f) The full-time law school applications Gini coefficient has risen from about 0.37 until 2012 to 0.42 this year. This is close to household income inequality in the U.S.

I didn’t expect the distribution would be so unequal, so I guess I’ve learned something from this exercise. Hopefully you did too.