Law School should put students ahead of rankings

A growing problem around the country hit close to home last month when the law school announced they had reduced the incoming class size. Applying for law school is already a grueling process that is based largely on college GPA and LSAT scores, but the University just made it even harder.

GW, among many other schools like Georgetown and Arizona State universities, has made the application process more difficult by shrinking incoming class sizes. This move allows GW to remain in the top tier of average standardized test scores and GPAs nationwide to stay competitive in the U.S. News and World Report rankings. This practice prevents the law school from being transparent about its quality by circumventing U.S. News rankings, which makes applying more difficult than necessary and loses tuition revenue that would come from enrolling a typical class size.

Students like myself, who are considering applying to law school, are adversely affected by this. GW should increase its class size from this past year to where it was previously and then maintain a consistent class size in the years to come. The University can then call on other law schools to follow suit, while being transparent about the practices used to maintain its ranking.

If GW’s law school is taking transfer students to circumvent rankings, then they should be transparent about it.

Last spring, the law school received more than 7,500 applications – the second-most received by any law school in the country. But simultaneously, GW has fallen five spots in the U.S. News Law School rankings since 2016. By shrinking the class size, GW will be turning away qualified students. This move does nothing more than artificially reduce the law school’s acceptance rate, as a smaller class size makes the school appear more selective without actually accepting higher quality students than previously.

The law school will take a financial hit from this decision, too. The school is highly dependent on tuition money, so the decision to cut the number of accepted students only hurts current and future students by reducing revenue and causing cuts to programs within the school. At a Faculty Senate meeting in December, Blake Morant, the law school’s dean, said the school has frozen the hiring of staff and limited the hiring of faculty to essential areas, while looking to cut down on raises. Although Morant said the law school is aiming to maintain quality of education, he admitted that these budget cuts are a result of shrinking the class size. These cuts could impact the quality of education, which is unacceptable to do merely because GW wants to put ranking ahead of students. These rankings are often looked at by prospective students as one of the only ways to compare law schools. Students pay for an expected quality of education at GW, and freezing hiring of new staff and faculty shows how GW could be falling behind similar schools that these students may have gone to instead. Law schools like GW are essentially showing that they prioritize ranking over students’ education.

Following a previous reduction in class size, the law school turned to accepting large transfer classes. Although GPA and LSAT scores for incoming first-year law students must be reported, second-year transfer students’ GPAs and test scores are not included in the freshman class averages. Therefore, GW could use transfer students to fill out a shrunken class without impacting its averages, both in the past and now, and is likely doing so. This practice is dishonest and it doesn’t reveal to potential students the actual quality of education they are receiving.

In 2015, Anthony Varona, the associate dean for faculty and academic affairs at American University College of Law, accused GW of poaching students. Of the 97 transfers GW brought in that year, 54 were formerly first-year students at American. In a Facebook post, Varona wrote that the collegiate GPA and standardized test scores that GW submits to U.S. News are solely those of their artificially small first-year law class. Sophia Sim, the law school’s associate dean for admissions, responded to Varona’s claim by stating that GW “does not actively solicit for any transfer student,” and added that GW’s location and curriculum merit a strong transfer pool. But it’s common for schools that lose dozens of students each year to accuse their competitors of poaching.

And law schools engaging in this practice is a growing trend. In 2016, Georgetown University took 111 transfer students, making up about one-sixth of their second-year law class, many of them from GW and American. The same year, a dozen other law schools accepted large transfer classes, including Columbia, Arizona State and Harvard universities. GW is certainly not alone in taking large transfer classes. But they should be a leader in ending it. By accepting fewer transfers and more freshmen, GW would create a more transparent application process and set an example for fellow law schools to follow.

Students who wish to attend the law school deserve to know the actual quality of the school.

If GW’s law school is taking transfer students to circumvent rankings, then they should be transparent about it. But if not, GW needs to come forward and provide evidence to prove it. In addition, they should provide statistics on transfer student performance and move to stop this dishonest poaching practice. Students who wish to attend the law school deserve to know the actual quality of the school by looking at the rankings, not just the quality of the incoming first-year law students. Most students use the U.S. News ranking to compare and select law schools, so the integrity of these rankings is highly important. Students cannot select their law school based on the actual quality of the school if GW and other schools engage in these practices. Regardless of whether GW’s acceptance of transfer students is meant to circumvent the law school ranking systems, it definitely doesn’t give prospective students the full view of the law school.

The University’s law students and prospective applicants deserve transparency about the quality of the education here. It’s more than just a number. GW should be a leader among law schools by providing that transparency and encouraging other schools to follow suit.

Kiran Hoeffner-Shah, a freshman majoring in political science, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

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