Part-Time Rankings Perspective

Part Time Rankings Perspective

By: Steve Millendorf

Many part time students have wanted the recent change to the ranking system for a long time and I am happy that the faculty voted to change the outdated policy.  While the old system may have had its roots in fairness to both part time and full time students, that ended in 2009 with the change to the admissions policy for part time students.  Before that, admissions criteria were slightly lower for the part time students, and it could have been argued that ranking full time and part time students together would have disadvantaged the part time students if the LSAT and undergraduate GPAs are really any indication of law school success.  Since 2009, admissions standards are identical between full time and part time students – the same LSAT and GPA is now required.  We take the same classes as the full time students, the same tests, with the same professors.  There is simply little justification to rank us separately throughout our time in law school only to have us lumped together at graduation.

The separate ranking system has been unfair to part time students.  The GPA rank cutoffs for top 10%-20% in recent years have been generally higher than that of full time students.  The ranking system significantly disadvantaged part time students for employment or scholarship opportunities that demanded such a rank for consideration.  Full time students could be afforded these opportunities with lower GPAs.  For example, in Spring 2012, there were 34 part time students set to graduate in Spring 2013.  The top 20% cutoff for this group is a 3.62 GPA.  For full time students graduating at the same time the cutoff is a 3.42.  A 3.42 GPA is slightly lower than the top third in class rank for part time students.

When all students are lumped together at graduation, part time students could see their class rank jump 10%-15% just because of the ranking system.  A part time student with a 3.42 GPA could see his class rank at graduation jump approximately 13% and suddenly find themself in the top 20% — making them eligible for scholarships and job opportunities long past.  If all students were ranked together the entire time, as the new system does, there would be fair competition across the entire student body for these opportunities.

Some full time students will argue that it’s not fair, that combining full time and part time students will put them at a disadvantage.  Full time students will argue that students would be ranked in the top 20%, but for the part time students getting ranked together with them.  That simply does not hold true for most students.  First, all students were already ranked together at graduation.  Second, comparing class ranking cutoffs between Fall semester for part time 4L students and full time 3L students to ranks at graduation in the Spring (where both groups were ranked together), shows little change in GPA cutoffs. In 2011-2012 class year, the top 10% and 20% cut offs were the same between the Fall full time students and the Spring graduating students. Even if that was an anomalous year because the 4L part time students actually had lower GPAs for class cutoffs, going back to 2010-2011 shows slight changes — a GPA change of 0.01 between the 10% GPA cutoff for the full time graduating class in the Fall and the 10% GPA cutoff at graduation; and a GPA change of 0.03 for the 20% cutoff between the same times.  Previous years show similar differences.  The overall result from combining the groups for class rank is that a few full time students, who would not have been in the top 20% at graduation anyway prior to the change, will find themselves out of the top 20% in earlier years.

Using the 2L Spring 2012 statistics again (graduating class of 2013), this will effect approximately 7 students out of 295 full time students (approximately 2% of the full time students). Seven students who would have gotten an unpleasant surprise at graduation anyway. At the same time, approximately 7 part time students will find themselves fairly ranked earlier than graduation.  Both types of students will now know where they rank earlier in their academic careers and have an earlier opportunity to adjust their study habits if they want to maintain class rank.

Another argument full time students raise is that GPAs for the part time students are higher because we take fewer classes and have an easier course load.  Such an argument over-inflates the difference in class load and available hours for studying between the programs and represents a misconception about the hectic lives of part time students.  Full time students take, on average, 14 credits a semester in order to graduate in 3 years.  Part time students are required to take 11 credits a semester in order to graduate on time in 4 years.  Twelve credits is considered full time.  The class load difference in average credits equates to one class a semester.  The small difference in class load does not justify the separate ranking systems.

Additionally, part time students don’t spend these few extra hours outside of class studying.  Starting with a changed admissions policy in 2009, almost all part time students work full time.  We are engineering leads, experts for Fortune 100 companies, C-level executives, and senior officers in our military.  These jobs are extremely demanding, easily requiring 40 or more hours a week.  Many of us are husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, and sole breadwinners.  Whatever the GPA difference between full time and part time student ranking cutoffs is attributable to, it is not due to the slightly reduced credit load or the fictitious increase in available hours to study.

Lastly, as many of the part time students have lamented, the part time class size is shrinking at a disproportionate rate to the full time students.  This year we will graduate approximately 34 part time students and 295 full time students.  The entering 1L class of full time students is approximately 250 (a decrease of approximately 15% in 3 years), whereas the entering 1L class of part time students is 17 (a decrease of 50% in 4 years).  Without the change, the top 10% for part time students is essentially meaningless.  It would cover 2 of the entering part time students, while it will cover 25 of the entering full time students.  The simple fact is that even if the part time student’s GPAs are higher than full time students, there are just not enough part time students to appreciably move the cutoff points for class ranking or to negatively effect a majority of the full time students.

In summary, the change to the class ranking system is the most fair to all students without distorting a student’s true class rank relative to the rest of their graduating class.  The new ranking system is not perfect, but it creates a level playing field for all JD students and avoids the jumps in class rank that plagued part time students in the past.  It accomplishes the stated and necessary goal of making class rank groupings meaningful to all JD students and to compensate for decreasing part time enrollment sizes.  Full time students can maintain class rank based on their grades, not on a flawed ranking system.

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