Wake Forest University

January 2011

Rethinking Admissions

Continuing the Conversation

Archive for January, 2011

Will the LSAT Join the Test-Optional Movement?

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

CB068300News that the LSAT (Law School Admission Test) might become optional for applicants has sparked a spirited debate among academics and lawyers alike. It also has renewed discussions over the criteria used in college rankings published by popular consumer magazines like U.S. News & World Report.

Should the American Bar Association decide to drop the LSAT as a requirement for law school accreditation, it most likely would not happen before 2012.  The decision first has to be finalized by the ABA committee that is considering the issue, and then voted on by the full council of the ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admission. Even then, it might take years before law schools follow suit by changing their admissions policies.

But just the prospect that the LSAT might one day be optional, as the SAT and ACT already are at many colleges and universities, has both detractors and supporters.  A “substantial portion” of the ABA committee reviewing the standard believes the LSAT requirement should be waived, the ABA Journal  reported.  One committee member explained that the decision would be driven in part by the desire to give law schools more autonomy in the admissions process.

 “Is taking a standardized test the only way to determine if someone should be able to go to law school?“ David Yellen, a committee member and dean of the Loyola University Chicago School of Law told the National Law Journal. “Schools ought to be able to decide how they want to admit students.”

 That argument is at the core of the test-optional movement among colleges and universities that previously required the SAT or ACT as a condition for admission. Many universities that have made standardized test scores optional report an increase in applicant diversity without sacrificing academic quality or performance.

 But legal professionals worried about the current glut of jobless attorneys see it differently. “First of all, given the plight of jobless law school graduates saddled with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, why are we encouraging the enactment of measures that could potentially lead to more jobless lawyers?” writes Vivia Chen in the Am Law Daily.

 U.S. News & World Report also quickly weighed in on the issue since LSAT scores are a key component in its rankings of law schools. Admissions data accounts for 25 percent of the rankings, with the LSAT accounting for half of that. “U.S. News will continue to conduct the annual law school rankings, and the LSAT will remain a heavily weighted factor.”

 College rankings have long been the subject of controversy, as Robert J. Sternberg points out in a new column for the Journal of Higher Ed. The potential ABA decision simply provides more fodder for debate.

Texas’ Top 10 Percent Plan and Unintended Consequences

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

Like nearly all government programs, the Top Ten Percent Plan in Texas has come with unintended consequences. The plan, signed into law in 1997, guarantees admission to the University of Texas Austin and other public universities to students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their high school class. One of the goals of the plan was to increase racial diversity at the state’s selective universities.
Now a new study has found that the plan may also have increased integration at less competitive high schools in Texas. The National Bureau of Economic Research reports that a significant number of students with a choice of high schools have enrolled in less competitive schools to improve their chances of graduating in the top 10 percent of their class.
“Among the subset of students with both motive and opportunity for strategic high school choice, as many as 25 percent enroll in a different high school to improve the chances of being in the top 10 percent,” write the study’s co-authors Julie Berry Cullen of the University of California at San Diego, Mark C. Long of the University of Washington and Randall Reback of Barnard College. “Strategic students tend to choose the neighborhood high school in lieu of more competitive magnet schools and, regardless of own race, typically displace minority students from the top ten percent pool.”
Ironically, this trend has “slightly” decreased the racial diversity at universities under the Top 10 Percent plan, while also leading to an increase in racial integration at less competitive high schools. In a column for the Chronicle of Higher Education, Richard D. Kahlenberg argues that’s a good thing. “Longstanding research has found that low-income students benefit from the presence of higher achieving middle-class peers. …And stronger teachers are more commonly found in mixed-income than high-poverty schools,” he writes.
Tell us what you think.  Should we be “gaming the admissions system” for socially desirable results as Kahlenberg suggests? Or do you side with the critics who contend that higher education stay out of the business of engineering socially desirable results?