CHAMPAIGN — The University of Illinois College of Law dropped another 12 points in the latest U.S. News & World Report rankings, falling to No. 47 in the country.
Once a top-20 program, the law school slid from 23rd to 35th last year following disclosures that an assistant dean had fudged several years' worth of admissions data — a key factor in law school rankings.
This year, a change in the way job-placement data was evaluated accounted for much of the drop, said Robert Morse, director of data research for U.S. News. The magazine was able to use a more detailed analysis because of new American Bar Association reporting standards on job placement, he said.
Previously, the rankings lumped together all jobs obtained by law school graduates, from short-term or part-time jobs to full-time legal positions, he said.
"We were able to emphasize jobs that we think prospective law students" want — full-time, long-term positions that require passage of the bar exam, he said.
Jobs were separated into 22 different categories, with the most weight given to full-time jobs lasting at least a year where admission to the bar was required or preferred. Jobs that were part-time and short-term were given the least weight.
That change was responsible for some "big moves" on the rankings list, including the UI's 12-point drop, Morse said.
Bruce Smith, dean of the UI law school, said Monday he had not yet seen the detailed breakdown of the U.S. News methodology but was disappointed by the rankings, which were embargoed until Tuesday.
"We think it failed to capture many of the most important initiatives and values we have invested in and care about," he said. "The core fundamentals of what we do don't change — highly respected faculty, superb students and outstanding alumni."
Smith said the data used in the rankings date back to the Class of 2011, which faced challenging job conditions. He expects the job-placement data for last spring's graduating class to show substantial improvement. Those figures will not be reported through the American Bar Association until later this spring.
"We think those numbers are going to be stronger," Smith said.
He noted that the UI had the highest bar passage rate of any law school in the state last summer, including Northwestern and Chicago, and it ranked 17th nationally in terms of alumni ascending to partnerships in the nation's largest law firms, Smith said.
The Class of 2011 data showed that 152 of the 190 graduates were employed nine months after graduation, including 34 with short-term positions (11 funded by the university). Of the 152 jobs, 118 required admission to the bar, 19 preferred a law degree, nine were other professional jobs and six were in non-professional jobs.
Nationally, a glut of attorneys and the recession have prompted large law firms in particular to scale back hiring. That's resulted in a drop in law school applications, and several law schools have cut their class sizes as a result.
Total applications to law schools dropped by 12.5 percent nationally in 2012, continuing a general downward trend that began in 2005, according to the Law School Admission Council. The UI experienced a steep drop, from 4,291 applications in 2011 to 2,699 in 2012, figures show. But the number had varied widely since 2005, from 2,418 to 4,680.
The UI's acceptance rates also rose from 20 percent in 2011 to 43 percent last year, according to data on its website. This year's class is 198 students, up from 184 last year but down from 228 in 2010. Since 2005, the first-year class has fluctuated between 172 and 239.
The academic profile for the fall 2012 entering class showed a slight drop in median GPA, from 3.70 to 3.55, though the median LSAT score remained the same at 163.
Smith said most schools across the country, including the UI, will likely "right-size" their classes this year, based on the applicant pool and the job market.
The American Bar Association last July levied an unprecedented $250,000 fine and public censure against the UI law school for intentionally falsifying academic data for the entering classes of 2005 and 2007-2011 (graduating in 2008 and 2010-2014).
A $1 million investigation by the university, prompted by a whistleblower, found that the law school had published inflated median grade-point averages and Law School Admission Test scores for six entering law school classes over the last decade, in order to appear more competitive. Investigators blamed an assistant dean for admissions for manipulating test scores and other data to preserve the college's top 25 national ranking. But it also chided college administrators for placing too much authority in his hands and for lacking adequate oversight to "prevent, deter and detect" the problems. The assistant dean resigned, and the college made structural changes to bring more oversight to admissions.
Smith said the law school has worked hard to be transparent with its academic and job data to give students the most information possible.
"We went through a difficult chapter. We put in place very strong controls that I think have been recognized as the most stringent among U.S. law schools, and I think we're reaping the benefits of that transparency," he said. "In this market, when people have to make hard decisions about where they need to put their investments, that kind of frankness and candor goes a long way."
The schools ranked in U.S. News' top 10 law schools didn't change, other than some minor reshuffling. Harvard moved from third to second, changing places with Stanford, for example. The remaining seven are Columbia, the University of Chicago, New York University, University of Pennsylvania, University of Virginia, University of California-Berkeley and University of Michigan.
Other schools saw sizable movement. The University of Washington fell out of the top 25, from 20th to 28th, while the University of Alabama climbed from 29th to 21st. Fordham fell from 29th to 38th, Pepperdine dropped from 49th to 61st, Loyola-Chicago slipped from 67th to 76th, Penn State climbed from 76th to 64th, and future Big Ten member Rutgers fell from 82nd to 91st.
U.S. News & World Report 2014 law school rankings
(Top 10 and Big Ten schools)
1. Yale University
2. Harvard University (tie)
2. Stanford University
4. Columbia University (tie)
4. University of Chicago
6. New York University
7. University of Pennsylvania (tie)
7. University of Virginia
9. University of California-Berkeley (tie)
9. University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
12. Northwestern University
19. University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
25. Indiana University-Bloomington
26. University of Iowa
33. University of Wisconsin-Madison
36. Ohio State University
41. University of Maryland
47. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
61. University of Nebraska-Lincoln
64. Pennsylvania State University
80. Michigan State University
91. Rutgers University, New Jersey
For the full rankings, go to http://www.usnews.com .
In other U.S. News rankings released today:
— The UI Graduate School of Library and Information Science retained its No. 1 ranking. The school also was placed in the top 10 by its peers in six specialties, including first in services for children and youth, second in digital librarianship, fifth in school library media, sixth in archives and preservation, seventh in health librarianship and eighth in information systems.
— The UI College of Engineering remained in fifth place, in a three-way tie with Carnegie Mellon and Georgia Tech. The top four schools were MIT, Stanford, Cal-Berkeley and Cal Tech.
— The College of Education ranked 19th, tied with Indiana, up from 22nd last year. Vanderbilt University ranked first.