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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Increasing Scholarship Money For Poor Students By Changing Ranking Metrics

Writing in Inside Higher Ed, Walter Kimbrough laments the fact that wealthy philanthropists often prefer to make large financial gifts to prestigious private schools that cater to wealthy students, rather than to schools that serve students with less financial means. This, he argues, does little to improve access to higher education, and in fact exacerbates  economic inequality. He also notes that many public universities are becoming less accessible to poorer students who nevertheless help support them with tax revenue. According to this report:

Between 1995 and 2003, flagship and other research-extensive public universities actually decreased grant aid by 13 percent for students from families with an annual income of $20,000 or less, while they increased aid to students from families who make more than $100,000 by 406 percent. In 2003, these institutions spent a combined $257 million to subsidize the tuition of students from families with annual incomes over $100,000 – a staggering increase from the $50 million they spent in 1995. At the same time, poor students were disproportionately bearing the brunt of increased college tuition and fees.

Information about the economic diversity of a number of educational institutions is available here. Some of the differences are surprising. At Columbia University in 2004-05, 62% of the student body didn't even apply for Federal financial aid. At Cornell University, another Ivy League institution located in New York that begins with the letter "C' that number is much lower, at 38%. 

I don't know if similar information is publicly available about law schools (Brian Leiter didn't seem to think so in April 2006) though I am sure most law schools track this sort of data for their own students. For law schools, the desire to do well in the U.S. News rankings puts pressure on administrators to allocate scholarship money in the direction of students exhibiting U.S. News rewarded "merit," rather than based on financial need.  This means that at some law schools, wealthy students receive copious scholarship money, and poor students receive little, especially if they attended less prestigious (but more affordable) undergraduate institutions.

This dynamic could be reversed in a microsecond if U.S. News began either making the economic diversity of a law school's student body a substantial ranking factor, or simply by rewarding law schools that provide need based scholarships.  Because the wealthy law schools can afford a lot more scholarships and economic diversity than the poor ones can,  the rich schools will remain securely on top of the rankings, while poorer students would graduate with less debt.

Posted by Ann Bartow on June 12, 2007 at 02:08 PM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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arleton's financial aid setup has been on the hot seat recently. No, we haven't been caught up (as far as I know) in that massive student loan scandal that made headlines recently. But students here have been up in arms about some aspects of our aid ... [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 12, 2007 7:32:10 PM


This idea, while well-intentioned, seems muddle-headed to me. The purpose of those rankings for the potential law school student are to determine how schools rank on criteria important to them - namely prestige which will translate into better employment prospects. How on earth would it help those prospective students to alter the rankings methodology based on a social policy concern that the prospective students may or may not share. Prospective students would simply ignore the new ranking because it did not reflect their concerns and look for a more appropriate one. Trying to bribe law schools to provide more financial aid through the use of rankings is a rather strange way to address this admittedly difficult problem.

Posted by: JOhn | Jun 13, 2007 9:23:44 AM

I find it both ironic and naive that anyone could expect the USNAWP college or law school rankings to voluntarily subsidize poor people going to elite colleges. I don't mean to be mean, but it's pretty obvious that USN derives most of its value by catering to a class of rich white readers who want to know which school is the richest, whitest, most pompous, and most signal-game-tastically likely to buy graduates a secure path to wealth and prosperity. They may not think of it exactly like that, but their motives are clear enough. A similar logic applies to the schools themselves.

What I don't understand is why rich liberal thinkers concern themselves particularly with making changes in the college admissions game that completely defy market forces and lower efficiency. The problem isn't that the rich are really rich. Who cares? The problem is that the poor are pathetically poor and show no signs of fixing themselves. It's incredibly obvious that poor minorities are badly underprepared in elementary and high school and badly socialized in general, and fixing those problems would probably do way more toward fixing the system than going after college admissions boards and magazines. It defies my ability to understand that black parents in my home of baltimore haven't risen up in rebellion against how badly their schools are run. They can't all be apathetic drug addicts. Public education has universally and expensively failed poor children, and, without a solution to that, I don't think we do any lasting good in meddling with colleges.

Posted by: Colin | Jun 12, 2007 9:37:28 PM

I completely agree. The "Talented Tenth" program in Texas provides one model for this, though it would be hard to apply it directly to the law school setting.

Lani Guinier's upcoming critique of the admissions system (called, in part, "How Wealth Became Merit") is discussed by her here:

One last thing: I believe that there should be mandatory disclosure of paid LSAT prep courses and "admissions counseling" services on applications. I discuss the rationale a bit here:


Posted by: Frank | Jun 12, 2007 7:36:46 PM

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