Michael Sauder, assistant professor of sociology at he University of Iowa, and Wendy Nelson Espeland, associate professor of sociology at Northwestern University, examined the impact of U.S.News‘ law school rankings. Surprise. Surprise. Their study shows that policy-makers try to influence rankings outcome. Their article "Rankings and Reactivity: How Public Measures Recreate Social Worlds," appeared in the July issue of the American Journal of Sociology and a recent press release summarized their findings. (The full article requires a subscription.)
What unintended consequences did the professors find?
- Reallocation of resources. Law schools invested in brochures to attract more applicants and improve their acceptance ratio by attracting more and more applications.
- Limit admissions flexibility. Admissions officers feel they have less discretion about which students they admit.
- Career service officials now spend inordinate amounts of following up on law school graduates to report employment rates which influence the rankings.
- Some manipulate the numbers in order to maximize their rank.
Again, applicants need to use the data in the rankings much more than the actual school rank. The latter is clearly flawed. While the schools "responsiveness" to student concerns may in some cases be a good development, there is no question that applicants put too much weight on the rankings.