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The Penn Graduate School of Education has won a large grant to study the changing law schools admissions market. 

Credit: Yosef Robele

The Graduate School of Education won a $138,000 grant earlier this month to study the law school admissions market.

The grant was awarded to the Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy, or AHEAD, a group within GSE that studies higher education policy in the context of societal equity. It was part of a larger group of grants totaling $335,000 awarded by the Access Group Center for Research and Policy Analysis, an organization which conducts and funds research into issues of access, affordability and value in legal education.

“If you want to understand how the higher education system distributes students among the various colleges and universities, you have to approach it as a market,” GSE professor Robert Zemskyok said. Zemsky is the principal investigator on the project. “We were sort of the first to argue that, and when they need a market study they keep coming back to us.”

The study, slated to be finished November of 2016, is still in its beginning stages. It hopes to analyze the changing law school admissions market and the effects that a shrinking market may have in the future.

“The issue with law schools is that law school applications are declining ... precipitously,” Zemsky said. “So if you’re the Access Group, who services the law school community, you have a real interest in sort of understanding who is going to be hurt by this contracting market — and that’s what we’re going to be able to tell them.”

According to the American Bar Association, total enrollment in law school for the year of 2015 was 113,900, down by almost 6,000 students from 2014’s enrollment number, 119,775. While fewer schools reported a decline in their numbers of first-year law students than in 2014, down to 107 from 127, law school enrollment numbers have been declining after reaching a high of 147,525 in 2010 — 29.5 percent higher than 2015’s number.

“We want to be able to predict what’s likely to happen,” Zemsky said. “If this contraction continues, what might the population of law schools look like?”

AHEAD hopes to study the different ways in which the contracting law school admissions market has affected different types of institutions.

“What we do is what you would do in any sort of market study; you create market segments based on price ... and then you ask, how are the high-price institutions different from the low-price institutions?” Zemsky said. “Are the bar passage rates higher? Are the employment opportunities higher? Are the LSATs higher? Do the demographics of these high-price schools look different from the demographics of the low-price schools and the schools in the middle?”

“What I know from some law schools anecdotally [is that] the law schools at the bottom of the market aren’t filling their classes,” he said.

While the results of the study will not be published for several months, students interested in pursuing a career in law may want to keep an eye out for their findings.

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