Wednesday, September 24, 2008

LSAT-Free Law School Admissions

The University of Michigan School of Law recent announced an innovative program to admit 1L law students who have never taken an LSAT exam. Under the Wolverine Scholars program, potential admits with especially good undergraduate records from the University of Michigan—Ann Arbor campus may apply for admission to the law school without having taken the LSAT. That is not just an option, either; it is a requirement. "In order to be considered for the Wolverine Scholars program, applicants must not yet have taken the LSAT," explains the law school.

How, then, can the law school trust that the Wolverine Scholars program will bring in qualified students? It doubtless helps that only students of the University of Michigan, an excellent undergraduate institution, qualify. To hedge its bets, though, the law school also requires that students applying as Wolverine Scholars have and maintain a cumulative UM grade point average of at least 3.80. (By way of comparison, the law school last year reported that its 1Ls had a mean GPA of 3.64.)

The Wolverine Scholars program doubtless has many virtues. I wonder, though, if the University of Michigan law school counts among them an opportunity to improve its performance in the U.S. News and World Report rankings. After all, the law school can hardly report LSAT scores for its IL Wolverine Scholars if no such scores exist. Yet those same students offer the school a chance to greatly improve the mean GPA of its IL class.

I predict that many more schools will soon emulate the University of Michigan's Wolverine Scholars program—unless, of course, USN&WR changes its ranking methodology to take away the advantage that LSAT-free admissions offers. USN&WR probably will not do so, however, because it relies in large part on ABA-defined categories of data. So unless the ABA reacts to LSAT-free admissions programs by changing how it measures GPAs, USN&WR will probably not rock the boat.

(HT: My Chapman colleague, and UM law school alum, Denis Binder.)

[Crossposted at Agoraphilia, MoneyLaw, and College Life O.C.]

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I bet the motivation for this is to keep good students from trying out the market for law schools. If the University of Michigan Law School can identify good students this way because it knows the undergraduate courses, it can skim the cream. By forcing these students not to take the LSAT, it keeps other schools from identifying them.
I doubt this is motivated by a desire to avoid the LSAT scores of these students. They probably would turn out to be fine.

9/25/2008 8:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's possible this Wolverine Scholar program may have been motivated by Prop 2, and not by USNWR. After all, TX and CA adopted similar admissions policies for their state universities in the wake of anti-affirmative action measures in those states. (And I think the TX program, like MI, doesn't put weight on standardized test scores. I'm less familiar with the CA program.) Even though the MI program is color blind, it could bolster minority enrollment at the school by deemphasizing a factor (test scores) that may unfairly / unwisely harm minority applicants.

In other words, if you think this Wolverine Scholar program is motivated by USNWR, would you say the same of the earlier CA and TX programs as well?

9/25/2008 5:06 PM  
Blogger Tom W. Bell said...

Anon: I agree that the program offers that, among other virtues. Indeed, I count plausible deniability as one of the plan's most impressive features. As something of a connoisseur of rankings hacks, I must say this one shows great art. Nicely played, UM!

Rob Mikos: Again, I would add that as one of the (possible) virutes of the Wolverine Scholars program. It remains a question of fact what sort of screening effect the SAT (presumably UM requires pretty decent standardized test scores) and GPA (3.8 is a pretty high bar) will have.

I cannot really say whether USN&WR's (undergraduate) rankings had any impact on the CA and TX plans you mention, as I don't geek out on that stuff.

9/25/2008 5:25 PM  
Blogger Stephen said...

By forcing these students not to take the LSAT, it keeps other schools from identifying them.

That was my first thought as well, you took my thunder ;)

Interesting concept, all in all.

9/28/2008 1:02 PM  

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