As I explained earlier, my model of the USN&WR rankings relies in large part on the data that schools report to the American Bar Association. The questionnaire that USN&WR sends to the law schools it ranks asks them to repeat what they told the ABA. In particular, USN&WR asks schools to tell it what they told the ABA about the median LSATs and GPAs of their first year class. Most schools evidently hew to that request. As I noted earlier,though, some few schools seem to report different numbers to the ABA and USN&WR. Baylor appears to fall in that latter group.
Specifically, it appears that USN&WR ranked Baylor based not the median LSAT and GPA of that school's entire first year class, but rather solely of the first year law students it admitted last fall. What's the difference? For most schools, there would be none. Baylor, however, offers an unusual opportunity for some students to enroll in the spring or summer preceding the first fall of their law school education. Judging from the data published in the ABA's official guide to law schools, Baylor lets students with relatively weak LSATs and GPAs start early. It admits students with relatively strong LSATs and GPAs in the fall.
Why do I think that USN&WR ranks Baylor based on the median LSAT and GPA of only its fall admits? First, because the 25th and 75th percentile LSATs and GPAs that USN&WR reports for Baylor correspond to those of its fall class—not to those of its first-year class as a whole. (USN&WR does not report the median LSATs and GPAs of the law schools it ranks, even though that is the number it in fact uses in calculating the rankings. Crazy, huh? Note that one in the burgeoning "suggested reforms" list.) Second, when I plug into my model of the USN&WR rankings the median LSAT and GPA of Baylor's fall admits (as opposed to the median LSAT and GPA of Baylor's first year class as a whole--the numbers it reported to the ABA), it ends up with a score only 1.47% above that assigned to it by USN&WR.
Let's suppose that we have thereby solved the mystery of Baylor's unusually low score in my model of USN&WR's rankings. So what? Here's what: USN&WR's reliance on the median LSAT and GPA of Baylor's fall admits would appear to contradict prior practice. As the New York Times reported on July 31, 2005:
Baylor University School of Law in Waco, Tex., places about 100 Students whose LSAT and G.P.A. scores are generally lower into summer and spring programs. In the questionnaire in which U.S. News asks for year-round admissions, Baylor has submitted only its fall figures. This is because, says the associate dean, Leah Jackson, the magazine's published methodology had told readers that the reported data was for the fall entering class. (U.S. News has since fixed the mistake.) "In an attached addendum, we give them the spring, summer and the aggregate numbers," Ms. Jackson says. "What they do with those numbers is up to them." This year, U.S. News changed Baylor's data to reflect the year-round figures.
Robert J. Morse, director of data research for U.S. News, says: "In my view, Baylor was coming up with a lawyerly version of why they want to give us what we don't want and hope that we don't catch them."
I assumed from that story that USN&WR would henceforth rank Baylor based not solely on the median LSAT and GPA of its fall admits, but on those of its entire first year class. That does not appear to have happened, however. We thus face a residual mystery: Why not?
One of two answers looks likely. First, USN&WR may have knowingly ranked Baylor based solely on the numbers for its fall admits. In that event, we will have learned something very interesting about the methodology that USN&WR uses for its rankings. If they know they can win the same favorable treatment, other law schools may well find Baylor's approach to admissions worth emulating. Second, USN&WR may have unknowingly ranked Baylor based on the numbers that school submitted. In that event, we will have learned something about Baylor's reporting practices (consistently aggressive), about the rank that USN&WR meant to assign Baylor (around 58 rather than 51), and, most importantly, about USN&WR's fact-checking practices (insufficient).
Which answer is it? I've written to USN&WR and hope to report back here with an answer, soon.
[Please note that I've edited this post to reflect edits that I made to my model of the USN&WR rankings.]
Earlier posts about the 2007 USN&WR law school rankings:
- Change to U.S. News Law School Rankings Methodology
- "Financial Aid" Revised in U.S. News Methodology
- How USN&WR Counts Faculty for Rankings
- Whence Come the LSATs and GPAs Used in the Rankings?
- Gains and Losses Due to USN&WR's Use of Reported Median LSATs and GPAs
- How to Model USN&WR's Law School Rankings
- Why to Model USN&WR's Law School Rankings
- The ABA and USN&WR's Law School Rankings
- Accuracy of the Model of USN&WR's Law School Rankings
- Z-Scores in Model of USN&WR's Law School Rankings
- Further Tinkering with Model of USN&WR Law School Rankings