Law Schools’ Use of Merit Scholarships

-Submitted by David Drumm (Nal), Guest Blogger

The U.S. News law school rankings are very important in attracting the best and the brightest students. Another incentive is the awarding of merit scholarships to the candidates with higher LSAT scores. The median LSAT score accounts for 12.5% of the school’s ranking. The median LSAT score can be adjusted by providing merit scholarships to those with higher scores. This can get expensive for the school. But, luckily, the schools have an out: the scholarships are usually based on maintaining a minimum GPA which is determined on a curve. If the school does not make that abundantly clear, it’s in the fine print.

It’s a win-win for the school. They get their median LSAT score increased while voiding most of the scholarships.

Another possible trick is the alleged practice of “section stacking“, wherein the school aggregates 1Ls with merit scholarships into the same section. The more merit scholarships under the same curve, the more scholarships are eliminated. The practice of “section stacking” may be an urban myth since it would be almost impossible to prove or disprove.

There is no loss to the school’s ranking because it lost in the median GPA category, with a weighting of 10%. This is because the curve guarantees that the median GPA remains constant. If the school’s student population suddenly got dumber, the curve would just shift left and the median GPA wouldn’t change.

Approximately 80% of law schools use merit “stips” (stipulations). The students who lose their scholarships often seek loans as a method of continuing their education and feel gamed by the law school.

Catering to the U.S. News rankings has had the unintended effect of reducing the number of need-based scholarships.

H/T: VC, NY Times, Brian Leiter, PrawfsBlawg.

41 thoughts on “Law Schools’ Use of Merit Scholarships”

  1. Sometimes sweeping generalizations DO work. That is kind of the point of science, after all. “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction” is kind of sweeping generalization.

    I believe I have a unique perspective, having seen first-hand the inner workings of so many large organizations, including the military, industrial corporations, hospitals, insurance companies, restaurant chains, universities, power companies, apartment complex companies, national charities, local charities, government offices and prisons (not as an inmate; as a technical consultant). When you see the same dynamic play out again and again without fail, in one large organization after another, it is fair to make a sweeping generalization. Sociopaths rise to the top.

    It isn’t right, I despise it, but the fact remains: Not caring who they hurt or whether their acts are moral or harmful or a betrayal is a distinct survival advantage in the competition to advance. Stealing other people’s ideas, work, and credit actually works; defrauding customers and investors actually works. Fucking over the people that think of themselves as friends of the sociopath works too.

    Just because it makes us sick does not mean we should deny the facts, in fact denying that sociopathy really works is what the sociopaths want. If you believe it doesn’t work, you are less likely to expect or suspect it when they are victimizing you, until it is too late for you to do anything about it.

    It is a sweeping generalization because it is sweepingly true; sociopaths rise to the top.

  2. Tony C, It all depends on the school. Sweeping generalizations don’t always work.

  3. @OS: These moral midgets are going to be teaching our children who knows what.

    They will be teaching them next to nothing. In my (scientific) field at least, kids graduating with Bachelor’s degrees today now know less than I knew graduating high school. It is pathetic, the system has been redesigned with the idea that nobody’s feelings ever get hurt, it is always better to feel good than to BE good. The result is a lie, students graduate thinking they have accomplished something they have not, then do not understand why nobody wants to hire them. Employers cannot count on a Bachelor’s or Master’s having any meaning whatsoever; with perhaps the exception of the Summa students, at least they either cared or were so naturally intelligent they didn’t have to care.

    It is the equivalent of the children’s parties, everybody gets a prize! You are all winners!

    I can understand that for the emotionally immature in a venue that makes no real difference. I think it is a tragedy to have perpetuated it into real life and situations that matter; the high school and college years are irreplaceable and those kids are being done a disservice; we are squandering that resource because we let the sociopaths manipulate us endlessly.

  4. @Frank: Anyone have suggestions for avoiding this sort of deal?

    I haven’t attended law school; but in your position I would try to narrow down the places your kid could get into to maybe four; go to their websites and faculty pages, and ask the professors that will be teaching the kids something about any pro bono work they have ever done, why they did it, and what they thought was at stake. Just a link to an article is enough.

    Either that, or look at what links they provide on their faculty page, or Google their names and try to find things about them.

    I think it is important to distinguish the administration from the faculty; as I wrote above, most of the faculty I know are harrassed professionals trying to do their job and protect their time from an administrative pack of dogs. Also PhDs, but people don’t need noble intentions or moral standards to get that.

    We aren’t a law school but I doubt they are much different; there is too much money at stake.

  5. frank, It depends on your kid’s LSAT, GPA and the particular law school he or she wants to attend. I just went through it with my daughter last year. If you are rich, you can avoid it and pay $210,000 for three years at a private school or about 130,000 for in state tuition at a public school. Some kids finance it through loans but it is risky in this economy even for Harvard. A certain combination of grades and scores make one eligible for a variety of merit scholarships at various schools. Lets put it this way – it is not a holistic approach.

  6. So my kid is a college Sr. & wants to go to law school. Anyone have suggestions for avoiding this sort of deal?

    As for the Koch brothers – they are following in the family business of destroying the foundation upon which this country flourished. We are well & truly screwed.

  7. Tony, at this point, I do not care where it originated. It now exists. This is the financial and academic version of the stuff you find when you roll over a wet rock on soggy ground. These moral midgets are going to be teaching our children who knows what. That is frightening.

    BTW, If any of my (hypothetical) well paid staff came up with something like this I would fire them on the spot for lacking a moral center.

  8. @OS: Should you ever have untold wealth, it should not have to occur to you. Just ask your well-paid staff how to promote your pet causes, and they will produce a long list of evil ideas for you to consider at your leisure. In powerpoint form. I would not doubt this particular idea originated with a sociopathic University President willing to sell out his/her students for a few hundred thousand bucks.

  9. Otteray,

    I find it troubling that colleges and universities can be bought in this way. These types of agreements made with public colleges and universities should be made known to the public.

  10. Elaine, I have lost track. There are those who have made the donation and agreement public, but that leaves a question about those colleges and universities who did not announce the “gift” to the media.

    Even if I had untold wealth, it would never have occurred to me to try and buy college academic programs to promote my pet causes.

  11. Otteray,

    Thanks for those links. Is Clemson the fifth or sixth college that’s sold faculty hiring rights to the Kochs that we’ve heard about? One has to wonder how many more colleges and universities have done the same thing. These types of deals that billionaires cut with institutions of higher learning certainly don’t seem to be ethical to me. Call me old-fashioned.

  12. Speaking as a member of the faculty of a large university: Our scholarly system is decaying to the point of charade.

    Sports mania graduates students that should have been flunked (or expelled) and spends tens of millions of dollars on sports equipment that could have been spent on more professors, classroom equipment, researchers and research equipment, or just basic maintenance of the infrastructure.

    Students anonymously rate professors, and that and your class graduation rate counts toward evaluations. Grade inflation occurs because professors cannot demand so much from students that students give them a bad review. For two reasons; the administration might think they are a bad teacher, and if students diss a professor as “too hard,” word spreads and the professor ends up teaching nothing but core classes, because the electives the professor offers (usually in their specialty) do not get enough voluntary student sign-up. Since teaching their elective is also the primary source of their grad students (which they must recruit), they also do not advise, which also counts toward their evaluation: How many Master’s or PhD’s did you graduate this year?

    So they cannot flunk 90% of the class, which is literally what should be done in some cases. Instead they dumb down the material and slow down the course to get the dummies through, which ups their GPA and positive reviews (and to an idiot administration that makes them look like a “good” teacher), and maybe the throughput lets them recognize a good undergrad or fresh grad student they can snag to advise.

    Benefits accrue to professors that harm society. The first part is to just give students what they want: An easy path to a diploma where they don’t have to really learn or understand anything; just perform a four year long series of rote memorizations and regurgitations. It is easier on both the professor and the students to just say fuck it; if the average grade is 45, we will grade on a curve. The second part of the formula is an extreme, European-style focus on the top 2% or so, the one student per semester or so that actually understand shit and you want to snag as a grad student.

    School ratings, as noted, corrupt the management to the point that they destroy good programs to promote fads and friends, defraud students and rip them off, all while pretending benevolence.

    Pick any large organization, be it a government division, a university system, a for-profit corporation, a charity, a hospital system, just about anything with a budget over $50M or more than 500 employees or so (and I have consulted with or worked for all of these types), and the profiteering sociopaths will rise to the top.

    The selective pressures ensure the glib strategists, the amoral and (metaphorically) brutal win, until the top is crowded with a ruthless bunch of appalling schemers and assholes. Occasionally sprinkled with a few hyper-competents that waste much of their day fighting defensive battles against their predator peers.

    It Happens. Every. Time.

  13. Slightly OT, but has anyone seen the story that Clemson is the latest university to sell its faculty hiring rights to the Koch crime family?

    Here is the story from the Anderson, SC Independent Mail:

    John K. Wilson summarizes the story nicely on DKos, with links:

    The DKos story has a link to a PDF of the agreement. It does not take a lawyer to understand how the Koch brothers are gutting any semblance of academic independence in hiring and firing.

  14. The students feel gamed because they have been gamed … it’s a clever con and perfectly legal. They’ve learned a lot …

  15. So the LSAT only matters to schools because US News uses it in the rankings?

  16. Well SWM….The state does have to keep Billions in the Rainy Day fund to cover say….tax forgiveness for the wealthiest Texas business’s not doing business in Texas….

  17. I have one going to the University of Texas, too. She also has a merit scholarship. Hope she does not lose it. She won’t based on the first semester but who knows about the second.

  18. It is said when Corporate Welfare is more important than Educational Welfare.

  19. My daughter’s last exam was yesterday. Hope she does not lose her merit scholarship. She is leaving for her summer job today. She might lose her grant because of state cutbacks in education.

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