Liberty University gives us a masterclass in milking statistics?

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Take a look at this story about Liberty University, Virginia’s worst law school (which says a lot when you’re competing with Regent University and Appalachian).

Evidently, Liberty is boasting that its students achieved a 100% pass rate on the bar exam. If this were true (and on its face, there’s nothing wrong with it other than the fact that even the best schools in Virginia don’t even come close to 100% pass rates), it’s great news. Congrats all round to Liberty and its fine students, faculty and program.

“To lead the entire state in bar pass rates is an incredible achievement,” [Dean Mat] Staver said. “We are proud of our alumni who have set a high standard.”

Okay, so it’s not a crime to be proud of your students (even if “leading the entire state in bar pass rates” really isn’t as true as it sounds – it’s the Feb exam, and there is no mention of how many students from Liberty actually sat for it). But here’s another quote:

With tracks in civil, criminal and constitutional litigation, public policy, media and entertainment, business planning, estate planning, real estate development, and government administration, the school is equipping a generation of Christian leaders with skills that are on par with graduates of the nation’s top law schools.

Now it’s jumped the shark (or turned the water into wine). There is no way on earth (or in heaven) that Liberty law grads are on par with grads of the nation’s top law schools. There may be a few very smart students there who have made a deliberate religious choice to attend Liberty over, er, Yale or Harvard, Virginia even. And there may be a few smart nontrads there who had families and couldn’t move to distant schools. But the rest are average low-end law school students – low GPA, low LSAT, few to zero career opportunities, and certainly not in the same league as the best and brightest. (Let the record reflect that I didn’t graduate from a top law school, and I’m the first to admit that many of the people who end up in top law schools are far brighter, more motivated and more successful than me).

Now, I’m not one for snobbery, but on average, there is a difference between the average top 14 student and the average bottom-ranked law student, and there’s a difference between a top 14 school and a bottom-ranked school. Perhaps not as much of a difference as one might expect considering the huge disparity in employment opportunities available to grads from either end of the spectrum, but there is a difference. And here’s where Liberty gives us the masterclass in manipulating a fragment of data. Liberty says that it leads the state with a 100% bar passage rate. Applicants read this and think, “Great! That shows me that Liberty is a top law school with the best students, and I too will be guaranteed to pass the bar exam and join this amazing group of top lawyers.”

But the real story is that Liberty probably had one or two test takers in the February bar exam – it’s not the typical time to take the exam, especially if, as the Virginia State Bar reports, 100% of the Liberty test takers were first timers. They all had an extra six months to prep for the exam (unless they were Christmas grads, which is also unusual). And the other Virginia law schools’ Feb exam results are marred with the handfuls of grads of each school who are repeat test takers, are doomed to fail again for whatever reason, and who may never pass the bar exam.  And to milk this minor story into a “Liberty is up there with the best schools in the nation because of this one statistical fluke” is just a massive, ridiculous leap. Liberty is a cripple of a law school that will not rise up and walk with the top law schools in my lifetime. (I was going to use a ressurection-based joke there, but seeing as it’s Easter weekend, I thought I’d better not.)

It’s a minor news story at best, but the way it’s presented and twisted by Liberty to promote itself is a textbook example of how manipulative and deceptive some law schools have become when fighting for rankings and student tuition dollars. And should we not expect better from a religious-based law school? (Or perhaps we shouldn’t – a legally-trained preacher is probably the last word when it comes to using deception to cause good people to part with their money).

Furthermore, let’s see the employment stats for Liberty grads – that’s the important stuff.  I bet those stats aren’t up there with the top 14.

(Update: take a look at this story from Friendly Atheist – it seems like Liberty might have a perennial problem about deceptive reporting of their bar passage stats.)

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