KU’s law school drops again in national rankings, while 12 programs make top 10

U.S. News and World Report released new rankings for graduate programs on Tuesday, and while Kansas University had 12 programs ranked in the top 10 among public universities, its School of Law, hampered by slumping employment numbers, dropped into to a tie for 89th overall.

The law school, which dropped 12 spots in 2011, dropped another 10 this year. Stephen Mazza, KU’s law dean, said a dip in employment numbers was to blame.

The magazine used employment data from the KU’s class of 2010, which had 46.4 percent of its students employed at graduation, and 78 percent of the students employed nine months out. Those are lower than the class of 2009’s figures, which saw 63.2 percent of its students employed at graduation, and 89 percent employed nine months later.

While the economy is playing a role, KU’s numbers are generally lower than those reported by other schools, Mazza said. He stressed that KU doesn’t manipulate its numbers by hiring recent graduates at low salaries or by other means.

“One school reported 98.2 percent,” as an employment rate for its graduates, Mazza said. “I find that extraordinary.”

Mazza said he had been aware of the employment numbers long before the rankings came out, and the school has taken some actions to counteract the low employment figures.

“We don’t want to let the rankings dictate how we run the law school,” Mazza said, but at the same time, they do highlight areas where the school needs to improve.

The law school has hired a new assistant dean for career services and a new career services director. Both of those people are using new tactics to make connections with potential employers, helping students start their own firms and are looking beyond law firms to other industries to help place law graduates.

Also, Mazza said this year’s first-year class size was reduced to 131 students from 165.

“It’s a lot easier to get jobs for 131 students than it is to get jobs for 165,” he said.

Mazza said some areas of the law school remained strong. For example, its bar passage rate was back up above the state average, and its faculty-to-student ratio remains low.

KU was tops in the grad school rankings in two traditional areas of strength. The school’s city management and urban policy program ranked No. 1, and KU’s special education tied for first with Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College. The School of Education’s overall ranking remained ninth among public schools and 18th overall.

With 12 graduate programs ranked in the top 10 for public universities, the university is halfway to Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little’s goal of having 21 top-10 graduate programs.

KU Medical Center saw several rankings improve, including its ranking for rural health. The last time the magazine ranked rural medicine programs in 2009, KU wasn’t listed. This year, the program was tied for 12th among all universities.

While the KU School of Medicine ranked 35th overall for primary care, its research ranking was lower, at 72nd among all universities.

Barbara Atkinson, KU’s executive vice chancellor at KUMC and the dean of the medical school, said she was pleased with that ranking and an improved ranking for primary care.

“I’ve been worried in the past that we weren’t really recognized for rural health,” she said. “We’re very pleased overall.”

She said she thought the sharp increase was likely because of the opening of a new KUMC campus in Salina.