The Rankings Game

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Paul Campos writes about the merit scholarship bait and switch at America’s law schools:

There’s a good piece in the NYT this morning on how law schools hand out merit scholarships to significantly more students than will end up being able to retain them, given traditional law school grading practices (Paul Caron has a useful summary of the article here). This practice, which is quite new — a generation ago law schools handed out almost no merit scholarships — is driven, like so many other questionable things law schools do, by the rankings game. The GPA and test scores of entering students account for nearly a quarter of a school’s ranking, so, just as in the case of graduate employment figures, there’s a powerful incentive to game the numbers.

This phenomenon of ranking based on inputs exists across the board in higher education and it creates a very unusual market. Most businesses either try to sell more stuff to their existing base of customers, or else are trying to expand their existing base of customers. Schools are more often trying to ditch their existing customer base in favor of obtaining a different, more prestigious set of customers.