Monday, July 8, 2013

ABA to eliminate expenditures reporting requirement--what will US News do?

A Dean elsewhere writes:

Toward the end of last week, law school deans received the following email from the ABA:

"Dear Deans:

At its June 2013 meeting the Council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar approved the 2013 Annual Questionnaire (AQ) that you are required to complete and submit as part of the ABA accreditation process. I write to highlight several of the changes from last year’s AQ. 

1.            Elimination of expenditures questions.  The expenditures component of the Finances section of the AQ has been eliminated, as we had previously reported we planned to do.  There are no longer any questions or entries regarding expenditures.  The Revenues and the Reserves components of the Finances section of the AQ remain.  In connection with the sabbatical site visit process, schools will be required to report expenditures information for the year of the visit and the two preceding years."

Thus, it appears that the ABA will no longer be requiring schools to report expenditures information each year.  

It very much remains to be seen how US News will respond to this change and whether it will nonetheless continue to request such information from law schools (thereby, among other things, imposing an additional reporting burden on law schools that the ABA has now lifted). In my view, the optimal outcome would be for US News to stop asking for expenditure information altogether, but I suppose we'll see what their approach is.

This is a rather significant development, since the expenditures data (more than 10% of the total score in U.S. News) has been the tail that wags the dog in the U.S. News rankings.  Back in 1999, when U.S. News first adjusted the expenditures data for differences in cost-of-living, the results were dramatic:  Baylor and Alabama popped into the top 50, for example, and Boston College and Fordham fell out of the top 25.  That year, U.S. News also stopped printing the "faculty resources" (their name for expenditures) rank in the magazine, for it would have made it far too obvious how the ordinal differences between comparable schools in every other respect were an artifact of this single measure.  But without the ABA collecting this data, U.S. News will have no check on the accuracy of what schools report; if they don't drop expenditures, this will just open up a new avenue for "creative" reporting and fraud.  If they do drop it, as they should have long ago, expect to see Yale lose its #1 spot, expect to see NYU drop, and expect to see state schools like Hastings and Wisconsin rise.

UPDATE:  Deborah Merritt (Ohio State) has a useful overview of what U.S. News might do.

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