Researchers examine the impact of law school admissions reform on diversity | Tech US News

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Researchers examine the impact of law school admissions reform on diversity

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As part of an effort to address racial disparities in the legal field, law schools in the United States are increasingly accepting the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) instead of the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) as part of their admissions requirements. According to College of Education researchers, however, GRE admissions alone are not enough to expand access to law school for racial minority students.

In a new study, researchers found that policies that adopt the GRE increase law school selectivity without corresponding changes in racial diversity. Additionally, GRE acceptance policies may reduce racial diversity over time.

“I hope this study complicates our thinking about admissions reform,” said Kelly Rosinger, associate professor of education (education and public policy). “I think we’re really hoping for a silver bullet, and in doing so we’ve forgotten that racial disparities in enrollment patterns are the result of systematic, decades-long policies designed to deny opportunities to black and brown families and give opportunities to white families.”

A study titled “Exploring the Impact of GRE-Accepting Admissions on Law School Diversity and Selectivity” was recently published in Review of Higher Education. In the paper, Rosinger and her co-authors assess the impact of law schools’ decisions to allow applicants to take the GRE instead of or in addition to the LSAT. Co-authors are Karly Ford, Associate Professor and Research Associate of Education (Higher Education); and Junghee Choi, assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at the University of Oklahoma, who received her doctorate in higher education from Penn State.

The GRE acceptance trend has been gaining ground in legal education since 2016, when the University of Arizona became the first law school to adopt GRE-accepting admissions in an effort to admit students from more diverse backgrounds. By 2020, more than one-quarter of law schools accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA) adopted the GRE in lieu of the LSAT, and the ABA voted in 2021 to allow law schools to adopt the GRE. Currently, 57 institutions have adopted this policy, including Harvard, Yale, and Columbia, as well as Penn State Law and Dickinson Law.

For Rosinger, the study of law school enrollment reform is a natural extension of her work. Her research examines the barriers students face in attending and completing college and how postsecondary policy can be designed to reduce racial and economic disparities.

Rosinger has previously worked in this area in an undergraduate context, examining a long-term trend in elective-exam policies that began in 1969 among select liberal arts universities and ramped up in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The movement was launched to increase access to low-income and racial minority applicants because of racial and economic disparities in test scores and because they don’t always predict students’ longer-term success outside of other academic measures, Rosinger said. Over time, the trend shifted to research universities, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, most universities switched to optional testing due to restrictions in the testing environment for university admissions.

“At the same time, we’re seeing this movement in graduate schools to make the GRE optional, and we’re seeing a push in law schools to allow institutions to admit students who take the GRE instead of the LSAT,” Rosinger said.

Rosinger and her colleagues decided to examine recent shifts in law school admissions, she said, in large part because of the opportunities for social and economic advancement that law schools offer. As a highly selective sector of education, law school “tends to be white male oriented.”

“Law schools are particularly important in producing graduates who can advance social justice issues,” Rosinger said. “From a social justice perspective, from an equity perspective, I think this is a particularly important profession to think about in terms of efforts to improve access to students who have historically been denied access to law schools.”

Existing research on test-based undergraduate admissions policies has reached mixed conclusions about their effectiveness. A 2015 study co-authored by Rosinger found that liberal arts colleges that adopted test-choice policies did not increase the racial and economic diversity of their student body. Instead, the policies opened the door to more applicants and the submission of higher test scores, making institutions more selective.

Going into the study, the researchers had reason to believe that GRE admissions might increase enrollment among racially underrepresented students. In their article, they cite previous research that has shown differences in LSAT scores by race, with participants who identify as black or Puerto Rican scoring lower on average than those who identify as white, Asian, or Pacific Islander. Rosinger said the LSAT introduces racial bias into the admissions process in that it is expensive and offered only a few times a year. Although the GRE has the same inherent biases as the LSAT, it is offered more frequently and at a lower cost.

To understand how GRE admissions policies affect law school selectivity and diversity, the researchers used data from the ABA, which collects annual information on law school admissions, enrollment, and financial aid practices. Their sample included 201 ABA-accredited law schools, while their data set contained data for the decade from the academic years 2011-12 to 2020-21.

Rosinger and colleagues’ study of law school admissions reform produced similar results to previous studies of test-free admissions. The higher volume of applications allowed law schools to become more selective without further diversifying the student body. In fact, researchers have found that policies that adopt the GRE can reduce racial diversity after being implemented for a few years, and these changes are sustained over time.

According to Rosinger, the results of the researchers’ study do not negate the potential benefits of law schools adopting policies that accept the GRE. Instead, they point to the need for more systemic, comprehensive reforms to recruitment, admissions, financial aid and the campus environment that create inequitable outcomes.

Additionally, Rosinger said, to truly level the playing field in the legal profession, administrators should promote policies that elevate students from underrepresented groups while enrolled in law school. Racial barriers can be overcome by providing adequate financial aid to minority students, developing curricula that focus on social justice, and helping students gain career-enhancing experiences, for example.

“The solution here is not to go back to the LSAT: That didn’t work,” Rosinger said. “We took one step and we tried to remove one obstacle, but we didn’t take the next step and the next step.”

More information:
Kelly Ochs Rosinger et al, Exploring the Impact of GRE-Accepting Admissions on Law School Diversity and Selectivity, Review of Higher Education (2022). DOI: 10.1353/rhe.2022.0014

Provided by Pennsylvania State University

Citation: Researchers study diversity impact of law school admissions reform (2022, Nov. 14) Retrieved Nov. 14, 2022, from https://phys.org/news/2022-11-impact-law-school-admissions-reform.html

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