Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Dissing US News

By now most of you have probably seen the story that a number of small colleges have essentially agreed not to cooperate with U.S. News in its compilation of its annual college rankings and that they are planning to formulate their own rankings system to compete directly with the US News rankings.

This news at least raises the specter of a similar agreement among law school deans not to cooperate with the annual law school rankings. Is this likely to happen? Are the antitrust consequences of such an agreement too scary? Is the collective action problem too difficult to overcome? Do too many schools benefit from the rankings to participate? Are there structural differences between small colleges and law schools that make a similar agreement unlikely at the law school level?

I've argued in print that more rankings are a good thing and that the more rankings that are out there, the less power any one of them is. Are we seeing the start of that progress this morning?


Blogger Jeff Harrison said...

Just my point of view but it probably will not happen because everything is scary to law school deans. The antitrust implications would be minor but I am not sure how schools that do not cooperate would be treated. Do the just fall in the rankings or are they not listed at all. If it is the former, it would take considerable courage to take the risk of the backlash resulting from a major drop in the rankings. To work at all, a handful of high ranked schools would have to take the plunge first.

6/20/2007 2:32 PM  
Blogger Nancy Rapoport said...

Hi, Jeff--I think that you may be ascribing more power to deans than they actually have. This is the sort of decision that requires the dean to check in with ALL of her school's constituencies, and most of them would probably be too risk-averse to go along with the suggestion of not responding to USNWR. I agree w/you that, when the heavy hitters refuse to play, others might follow. Of course, the heavy hitters benefit from the rankings (and probably don't have to manipulate the data much to stay ahead of the pack--note that I said "much"), so they're not likely to take the lead on this issue.

My colleague from Houston, Darren Bush, thinks that there are serious antitrust implications that would result from an agreement among law schools to "dis" the rankings.

Sam, very interesting post, BTW, and I'd thought about posting a link on this issue to MoneyLaw. I'm glad you beat me to it!

6/20/2007 4:40 PM  
Blogger Jeff Harrison said...

I did not mean to be so glib. One of the things that scares deans is the reaction of alums and faculties and I know those are serious.

As for the antitrust reaction your colleague could be right but my hunch is that, while there would be some sabre rattling, not much would come of it. First, this would almost certainly be a rule of reason case. The market affected, I guess, would be the market within which law schools compete. Would numbers of students admitted decrease. Not likely. Will tuition go up. Not likely. Will quality go down. On the contrary, it may go up as the rankings become less influential in determining law school operations. So we are down to whether it raises the search costs for applicants. Does it really? If the information is ultimately misleading a decision not to provide it may lower search costs. It is an interesting topic.

6/20/2007 5:10 PM  
Anonymous D. Daniel Sokol said...

Thinking back to Nancy's excellent previous posts on how razor thin the distinctions are between schools in the USNWR law rankings, it seems to me that the collective action problem is too high for a law school agreement (putting aside any antitrust concerns) because the benefits from shirking are too high. Normally, if a school does not cooperate, US News makes up its own numbers best on its "best guess." With too small a group of schools that resist, these schools may find that they lack the critical mass to overcome the USNWR response and their respective alumni bases might revolt after renegade schools get slammed with poor USNWR showings.

It strikes me that if there is money to be made with rankings, schools should court the WSJ, Business Week, the Economist or somebody else to come up with an alternative methodology to dilute the power of US News. In the b-school setting, there are lots of different rankings, each of which measure similar but not too similar metrics of a given school. USNWR is not the most important ranking. So long as this alternative ranking makes money, someone else will step up to the plate, especially if law schools lower the barriers to entry by assisting the new entrant. Of course, I also assume that schools are honest in their reporting, which they may not be. This is perhaps worthy of its own separate comment. Is there a Moneyball response to how to ensure honest self reporting by schools?

6/20/2007 9:16 PM  

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