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University of Iowa News Release

March 1, 2006

Study By UI Sociologist Shows Law School Rankings Affect Student Decisions

Law school rankings produced by U.S. News & World Report affect both the decisions made by students on where they apply and which school to attend, according to a study co-authored by University of Iowa assistant professor of sociology Michael Sauder.

The article, "Do Rankings Matter? The Effects of U.S. News & World Report Rankings on the Admissions Process of Law Schools," will appear in the March issue of the journal Law & Society Review. Sauder's co-author is Ryon Lancaster, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago.

Sauder and Lancaster found that the U.S. News rankings have particularly strong effects on the decisions of students who receive high scores on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), and these effects are greatest for schools ranked in the top 50, although schools of all ranks experience the effect to some degree. Furthermore, the authors found that US News rankings have effects on how selective schools are ---that is, the number of applicants they choose to accept -- in their efforts to fill their incoming classes. Again, these effects were strongest for schools ranked in the top 50.

In addition, the authors found evidence that rankings can become a self-fulfilling prophecy for some schools, as the effects of rankings alter the profile of the schools' student bodies and, in turn, change their future rank. This can result in a "negative spiral" that results in small differences becoming bigger over time because of the effects of rankings.

Cumulatively, the findings by Sauder and Lancaster suggest that the rankings help create rather than simply reflect differences among law schools through the magnification of the small, and statistically random, distinctions produced by the measurement apparatus.

For more information, reporters may contact Michael Sauder at 319-335-0366, or by e-mail to michael-sauder@uiowa.edu. A PDF version can be obtained by emailing Law & Society Review at lsr@wisc.law.edu.

The Law & Society Review, founded in 1966, is published by Blackwell Publishing. The Review is regarded by socio-legal scholars in the United States and other countries as the leading journal in the field.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Service, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Tom Snee, 319-384-0010, tom-snee@uiowa.edu.