Law schools admitting more minorities to combat enrollment drop

A new study suggests that law schools have admitted more minorities, particularly black and Hispanic students, to combat declining enrollment between 2010 and 2013. In his upcoming law review article “Diversity as a Law School Survival Strategy,” Aaron Taylor, assistant professor at St. Louis University School of Law, found that a school’s median LSAT score influenced the extent of which the racial composition of entering classes changed.

Taylor analyzed enrollment data from a pool of 196 law schools during this three-year period. He found that schools with higher-median LSAT scores tended to enroll more white and Asian students. Black and Hispanic students were more likely to attend schools with lower median LSAT scores, particularly at private schools. Taylor said these trends create greater racial and ethnic stratification.

“We often equate median LSAT scores with quality, whether or not they are a true reflection,” Taylor said. “What you have is larger proportions of black and Hispanic students going to schools considered less prestigious. This affects long-term outcomes, career trajectories and payoffs from law school investments. There are many implications tied in large part to race and ethnicity.”

Law students, as a whole, are more diverse than ever, he notes. In the 2012-2013 academic year, minorities accounted for 26 percent of total enrollment and 28 percent of first-year enrollment. However, Taylor is concerned that the influx of minority students disproportionately came from schools with low median LSAT scores.

“This analysis confirms that black and Hispanic students were critical components of the enrollment management calculus for schools [with the lowest LSAT medians], particularly private schools,” Taylor writes. “Given the depth of application and enrollment declines among these schools, black and Hispanic students could very well have saved some of these schools — at least for now.”

The number of black first-year students increased 6.6 percent among schools with the lowest LSAT medians and decreased 21 percent among schools with the highest medians. Hispanic first-year enrollment increased 8.1 percent among schools with the lowest LSAT medians but decreased 12.6 percent among schools with the highest medians.

The number of Asian first-year students fell 51.1 percent among schools with the lowest LSAT medians and decreased 15.4 percent among schools with the highest medians.

“One of the most interesting things I found was an exodus of Asian students from [schools with lowest LSAT medians],” Taylor said. "It is a reflection of an overall decline in Asian student enrollments and the LSAT-driven poaching effect, where students are essentially trading up to schools considered more prestigious.”

Taylor hopes law school administrators will arm themselves with this information when analyzing their own enrollment trends.

“We in legal education should look at what we are doing and whether or not we are contributing positively to the profession and the public the profession serves,” Taylor said. “We should not only critique lower median LSAT schools seeking to fill seats, but we should also critique higher median schools that are not doing their part when it comes to diversity, because of an obsession with numbers and rankings.”

The article will appear in the Spring 2015 volume of the St. Louis University Law Journal.