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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Lowest Top-20 Schools on Student Satisfaction

Over at TaxProf Blog this week, Paul Caron is doing a great series of posts unpacking the data from the new The Princeton Review's Best 174 Law Schools. Today's post is on the "academic experience" rating, which Princeton Review describes this way:

Academic Experience Rating: The quality of the learning environment, on a scale of 60 to 99. The rating incorporates the Admissions Selectivity Rating and the average responses of law students at the school to several questions on our law student survey. In addition to the Admissions Selectivity Rating, factors considered include how students rate the quality of teaching and the accessibility of their professors, the school's research resources, the range of available courses, the balance of legal theory and practical lawyering skills stressed in the curriculum, the tolerance for diverse opinions in the classroom, and how intellectually challenging the course work is.

Because it incorporates admissions selectivity, the elite schools should all do quite well here, and indeed 17 out of 20 score above 90. The three that fell below 90: Southern Cal (88); Yale (87); Cornell (63). Judging from the narrative sections in the book, USC's relatively low score (95 for UCLA) may be due in part to too much theory/not enough practical from some professors. Yale: indifference to teaching among some faculty seems to be the culprit. Yikes on Cornell. Sure, discount it a bit for weather/location and not being first-choice school of many, but still, that's awfully low. Students seem to complain about range of courses offered, small size of faculty. May also be they're working harder (5.5 hrs a day outside class) than peers at other places.

I've said before why I think these Princeton Review ratings ought to be a factor for U.S. News voters -- student satisfaction is a very good indicator, compared to available alternatives, in assessing the academic quality of J.D. programs, and commonly used in other rankings schemes like Business Week's for business schools, for example. And we look to consumer satisfaction as a proxy for quality with all kinds of services -- not clear why legal education is so different.

If we only knew the response rates (or at least a minimum for each school), I'd say U.S. News voters ought to use these as the major factor, and all prospective students ought to go out, buy the book, and use it instead of U.S. News in deciding among JD programs. But Princeton Review doesn't release that information. So I'd use it as a "bump up" if unusually high, "bump down" if unusually low.

Posted by Jason Solomon on October 21, 2008 at 12:07 PM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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I would think alumni satisfaction rankings would be more meaningful. Hard to really know how your school stands before you know whether you'll be employed on graduation or how prepared you'll feel next to peers at your first couple of jobs.

Not that student satisfaction isn't good to measure some things, such as how engaged faculty are in teaching - but things like "academic experience" as a whole I wonder about.

Posted by: anon | Oct 21, 2008 12:57:33 PM

I think it should be noted that, in order to be included in PR's "Best 174 Law Schools," law schools must fork over several thousand dollars. Thus, these aren't the "best" 174 law schools in the country; these are simply the ones with a few extra thousand dollars in their marketing budgets.

Posted by: Adam | Oct 21, 2008 3:05:27 PM

If you think that the academic reputation scores are problematic in terms of faculty members rating their own school highly and their rivals lowly, including student satisfaction rankings in the US News and World Report would be extremely problematic. What would be the incentive for any student to give a true account of their academic experience when they know that a negative rating would reflect negatively on their law school, thus diminishing the value of their degree in terms of securing the most competitive clerkships, jobs, etc. The same problem, of course, holds true for alumni rankings of their law school. While it is a good idea in theory, in practice it would just evolve into another problem with the U.S. News rankings decreasing their credibility further... Actually, maybe it is a good idea to include student satisfaction rankings...

Posted by: B. Ro. | Oct 21, 2008 7:47:56 PM

Good point, B. Ro, and in that sense, low Yale rankings might just mean that Yale students don't feel at all insecure about their school and thus no need to make it look better than it is. As an HLS grad, I rather suspect HLS students are fairly prone to this kind of exaggeration even when they complain amongst themselves about things.

Posted by: anon | Oct 21, 2008 8:51:15 PM

anon is right on the money here. YLS students and graduates take a certain kind of pleasure in complaining (quite justifiably in my view) about the general quality of teaching at Yale, knowing that teaching is not the feature that distinguishes the school and knowing that its reputation won't suffer as a result of broadcasting this message. The somewhat dispiriting corollary is that improving the quality of teaching isn't a high priority there and probably never will be. And I think anon is also right about HLS students' sense that their school could benefit from a modest bit of PR along these lines. But my sense is that the general level of teaching is at least a little higher at HLS than at YLS, and even higher at Stanford.

Posted by: palz | Oct 22, 2008 10:50:07 PM

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