A year after the James E. Rogers College of Law at the University of Arizona became the first law school in the country to officially accept Graduate Record Examination scores for admittance, students who didn't have the chance to attend law school are now doing just that.
The accrediting agency for law schools once required them to accept scores from either the LSAT or another valid, reliable test for student admission. For decades, the LSAT has had a virtual monopoly as the one required test.
This all changed last year when the UA — with the help of Educational Testing Service, the nonprofit group that owns the GRE — conducted a study to determine the GRE’s validity and reliability. The study recruited 85 first-year students from UA’s law school to take the GRE.
“The idea was to measure whether the GRE scores correlated to their first-year grades,” said Christopher Robertson, associate dean for Research and Innovation and professor in the College of Law.
Since students already had their LSAT scores, the Law School was able to see how both tests actually correlated with first-year grades.
“With this group of 85 students, we found that the GRE was as predictive of first-year grades as the LSAT," Robertson said.
The study yielded a surprising result. Not only was the GRE as predictive as the LSAT, but it’s quantitative section, which the LSAT doesn’t have, was one of the strongest subsections in predicting law school performance.
Armed with this study, UA’s College of Law announced it would begin accepting GRE scores as well as LSAT. For the fall 2016 semester, it accepted its first 12 students based on their GRE scores. Eleven of them enrolled.
Christina Rinnert, one of the first 11 admitted to the JD program based on a GRE score, said the cohort initially experienced doubtful attitudes from some of the more traditional students.
“There was this idea that somehow it was going to diminish who they let in," she said. "We’ve proven that it’s not. We are doing as much [and] as well as the other students. People have now forgotten we’ve gotten in that way."
For Rinnert, the college’s decision to accept GRE scores created an opportunity she had given up on. “Relying only on the LSAT was so narrowing. For me, that was the hurdle," she said.
As a working, single mother, she had neither the time nor the money to study for the LSAT.
“The GRE is less expensive, I could study on my own and it has so many test dates; it’s so easy to get access to that test," she said.
She was working in Pennsylvania when a colleague told her of UA’s decision. She applied.
“I got the acceptance email on my phone," Rinnert said. "I worked for a domestic abuse shelter and was on call that night. When my phone started buzzing, I thought it was that."
UA’s decision to accept GRE scores was implemented in part to increase the spectrum of students able to apply to the program. “We found that the LSAT was sort of a barrier to recruiting those students," Robertson said.
In Rinnert’s words, “It’s such a great opportunity to diversify the law profession.”
The results of the law school’s innovation have had a national impact. “It’s really created a ripple throughout legal education," Robertson said.
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Other law schools, such as Harvard, Georgetown, Columbia and Northwestern, have conducted their own studies since and made the move to begin accepting GRE scores as well.
“We are part of this phenomenal group, and it’s growing. Every month, another one announces," Robertson said.
Robertson said it’s hard to say why this change didn’t happen before. “It’s partly just an attitude of innovation that you see here, at the University of Arizona, that exists in what’s otherwise a very conservative profession," he said. “[Rogers College of Law] Dean Miller and I have recognized that legal education has to change, that the profession is changing."
Expanding acceptance requirements to include GRE scores is offering an opportunity to many who otherwise may not have had it.
“I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t be at law school or in this program without this opportunity. I know the other students agree," Rinnert said. “I’m living the dream. I’m doing the thing I never thought I’d be able to do."
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