U.S. News & World has made another important announcement regarding their law school rankings. Starting next year, in the 2009 rankings set to be released in March, U.S. News & World will be ranking part-time law programs in an effort to provide more information to students looking for these educational opportunities. Less clear is whether the preeminent rankings service will begin folding part time numbers into the full time rankings, as was discussed here.
Until such time that U.S. News & World decides to fold part time programs in, this story won’t affect the general rankings much. That said, it is still an important bit of information for a couple of reasons:
1. It affirms part time programs. There is definitely a need for part time J.D. programs, as they provide opportunities for people who can’t afford to stop working and they also create admission spaces for those candidates who may not be able to put forward the traditionally rewarded academic profile. By ranking these programs, it validates them as options, while also drawing attention to those law schools who specialize in this type of legal education.
2. It validates the rankings. This is a topic for a stand-alone post, but there are many critics of rankings and how they are used. However, the introduction of these part time rankings really validates why we have rankings in the first place – they serve as guideposts that inform students where they will find what they are looking for, while simultaneously alerting employers as to where they might find great employees. Without a ranking system for part time programs, there is no method by which part time candidates can predict the behavior of other part time candidates – and so they blindly select a school based on factors that are important only to full timers. As always, when you reduce any list or ranking of programs, the ultimate value is that they inform behavior and eliminate confusion in that particular market. These new rankings certainly accomplish that goal.