Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Catherine Rampell on Law Schools and Grade Inflation

Catherine Rampell has a fascinating article in yesterday's New York Times (In Law Schools, Grades Go Up, Just Like That, here) about several law schools that have categorically raised all of their students' grades.

According to Rampell, this phenomenon of miraculously rising grades stems largely from disgruntled alums. 

In particular, as the job market for attorneys has tightened dramatically during the recession, graduates from law schools with tougher grading standards are complaining to their schools' career services offices that they suffer, in the competition for jobs, from employers' perception that their grades are lower than new attorneys from other (less stringently-graded) schools. 

Here's an excerpt:
In the last two years, at least 10 law schools have deliberately changed their grading systems to make them more lenient. These include law schools like New York University and Georgetown, as well as Golden Gate University and Tulane University, which just announced the change this month. Some recruiters at law firms keep track of these changes and consider them when interviewing, and some do not.

Law schools seem to view higher grades as one way to rescue their students from the tough economic climate — and perhaps more to the point, to protect their own reputations and rankings. Once able to practically guarantee gainful employment to thousands of students every year, the schools are now fielding complaints from more and more unemployed graduates, frequently drowning in student debt.
Is Rampell's explanation -- that the schools are motivated largely by protecting their reputations and rankings -- overly cynical? Or are the schools, like their graduates, simply doing all they can to survive in the increasingly competitive reality of 2010?