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March 28, 2007

What is Pepperdine Doing Right?

If the leaked U.S. News rankings are correct, one of the big changes is the ranking of Pepperdine, which jumped 21 spots in the right direction.  I realize that the majority attitude regarding these rankings is to disdain them, but no one can doubt that they do matter, and that they do reflect in a general way the level of regard academics have for various schools.  Whether they admit it or not, all schools are making choices so as to improve or maintain their ranking.

From what I can see, Pepperdine has made some very good choices.  The following observations are from a complete outsider; other than attending a few conferences at Pepperdine over the years, I have no special knowledge of what they are up to.  Certain of their actions, however, have been obvious even to outsiders like me:

1)   Pepperdine is not only encouraging and enabling the publication of scholarship, but they are having their professors get out of town and promote that scholarship in other places.  It seems that most of the conferences I receive notice of have someone from Pepperdine on a panel, and it is hard to walk twenty feet at an AALS conference without running into someone from Pepperdine.

2)   Pepperdine has taken a leadership role within the bloc of Religiously Affiliated Schools, and more than perhaps any other institution has hosted conferences directed at this group.   Pepperdine's Bob Cochran is probably the most significant person within this movement nationally.  Given the sheer number of schools that fall into this group, the impact is significant.

3)   Pepperdine has a very high-profile Dean (Ken Starr), who has remained extremely active on the national scene (most recently arguing the "Bong Hits for Jesus" case in the U.S. Supreme Court) while still teaching at the school and becoming a core part of that school's identity.

-- Mark Osler

March 28, 2007 | Permalink


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All of the things you cite go toward the reputation indicators. Those usually lag behind actually improvements in the things that go into reputation (scholarship, conferences etc). Are you sure the reputation scores shot up and account for the 21 point increase? Usually, a school rises or falls like that because they were/are doing something wrong with respect to the reporting of numbers. They weren't diligent in collecting employment data and now they are or they changed their financial aid formulas etc. Sometimes it's because they started gaming the system or because USNWR changed the scoring in a way that incidentially benefits certain schools. It might be that Pepperdine's total score now more accurately reflects reality, but it's hard to believe they improved 21 spots because of a massive one-year shift in reputation.

Posted by: Anon | Mar 28, 2007 12:38:25 PM

Anon-- looking at the trend, they have jumped back and forth some the past few years, which seems pretty common in the 50-100 range. They started these initiatives years ago and are probably at least in part receiving the fruits of those changes. The list I saw did not break out the components leading to the ranking, so I can't say how reputation score fits in.

Even if that is not the cause of the jump, it has increased the reputation of that school with some of us who appreciate these efforts and (for example) have gotten to participate in their conferences. That is, it may be a good thing to do even without its affect on rankings.

Posted by: Mark Osler | Mar 29, 2007 8:20:03 AM

Pepperdine's reputation scores in the 2007 rankings were 2.2 (peers) and 3.1 (judges/lawyers). In the 2008 rankings, these scores moved to 2.3 (peers) and 2.9 (judges/lawyers). So that probably wasn't the source of the jump. In fact, only two things moved in Pepperdine's favor in the new numbers: Student/Faculty Ratio (19.8 in 2007; 17.8 in 3008) and "Employed 9 Months After Graduation" (90.5% in 2007; 97.2% in 2008). There is more discussion of the latter statistic here:


That said, the things you describe are certainly desirable and positive.

Posted by: Sarah L. | Mar 29, 2007 12:00:08 PM

Does anyone know the statistics for University of San Diego. It dropped 20 spots (basically swapped positions with Pepperdine). I always thought USD was a much superior school than Pepperdine. Don't know what happened there.

Posted by: James | Mar 29, 2007 2:29:03 PM

@ James: Two of the comments here discuss what they perceive as UCSD's shortcomings: http://www.concurringopinions.com/archives/2007/03/us_news_ranking.html

Posted by: Gene Koo | Mar 30, 2007 3:21:25 PM

Bob Morse, the law school rankings czar, spoke out on Friday about the rankings:

Posted by: Benson | Apr 13, 2008 6:35:37 PM

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