Monday, October 29, 2007

Transfer Students

I see that FSU has been outed as the leading transfer student admitting school from the USN&WR second tier. In the past I have been quite critical of the transfer student method of raising a school's LSAT and GPA scores in the rankings. One thing I did this summer was examine the impact of such a strategy on the ranking of my own school. I balanced the possible negative impact on bar passage against the increases in other categories and it seemed clear to me that such a strategy would be a relatively risk free way of moving up or at least not losing ground. On balance, I do not support the strategy but I can also see some benefits.

My own feelings are informed by two impressions of the transfer student strategy. First, the strategy is really a means of not disclosing numbers. It hides the "entering" numbers of a portion of the first year class. Is that really a bad thing when the system of aggregating and reporting is already a mess. Maybe the best reaction to an irrational system is to make it even more irrational and to make sure all is made public. To the extent hiding numbers and gaming the system work to discredit both the the rankings and those gaming, isn't this a good thing?

Second, at most second tier law schools, the bottom fourth of the class is guess work. There is little basis for picking one person over another. Rather than make that decision before any law school performance, why not wait to see which of the borderline student do succeed?

Don't misunderstand. I am not saying that anyone engaging in the transfer student game is actually doing it for education enhancing reasons. If that were the case, the transfer shuffle would have been around for years. Still, in a world where few things are simple, perhaps it is for the best.


Anonymous Rick Bales said...

Re: "To the extent hiding numbers and gaming the system work to discredit both the the rankings and those gaming, isn't this a good thing?"
Sounds like a rationalization to me. I think an argument can be made for accepting transfer students, but this isn't it.

10/29/2007 2:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How do you compare transfers with the strategy of a Spring class, which your own University of Florida used for years? According to Tom Bell's analysis from last year, didn't this artificially raise UF's numbers because only Fall admits were reported? Early on in US News, Spring classes didn't have to be reported at all under former methodologies for the survbey, I believe.

10/29/2007 4:47 PM  
Blogger Jeff Harrison said...

Of course you are right. I'm just trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. But isn't it interesting that gaming the system my end up destroying the game.

There are good reasons for admitted transfers -- see my reason 2. Of course, that reason existed way before USN&WR.

10/29/2007 5:14 PM  
Blogger William said...

Jeff, I appreciate your intellectually honesty here.

I am a big believer in whole person review, which gets done less and less these days. Admissions standards create incentives for how young people spend their time, or which majors they pursue. And the current emphasis on pure numbers is, well, just wrong.

I realize that this is a collective action problem. But some firm, clear-eyed leadership at the AALS or ABA level would be most welcomed right now.

Bill H.

10/29/2007 5:34 PM  
Blogger Jeff Harrison said...

Dear Anon; I think it amounts to the same thing and would not defend it. Most of the faculty were surprised to find out about the deal cut with USN&WR. We are told that USN&WR signed off on the partial reporting and that is credible given the persistent refusal by USN&WR to take account of the transfer student scam.

Bill: Let me know when you come across some firmness and leadership from the AALS and ABA.

10/29/2007 7:49 PM  

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