Students at Loyola Law School in downtown Los Angeles have managed to boost their grade-point averages slightly -- and they didn't even have to study any harder.
The 1,300-student school has adjusted its grading formula for current students and recent graduates to match the scales of other California schools, officials said Friday. But the move, which raised the average mark by a third of a grade, also prompted allegations of grade inflation.
The change was intended to ensure that graduates compete for jobs on an equal footing with other law schools' graduates and are not hurt by what had been a slightly tougher grading system, said Loyola Law School Dean Victor J. Gold.
"We were putting our students unfairly at a competitive disadvantage in an extremely competitive job market," he said Friday. "We are trying to have a level playing field."
As a result, the average GPA of first-year students rose from B-minus to B.
Gold said Loyola's faculty had vigorously debated the plan, aware that negative publicity was likely. But to do nothing, he said, would have been worse.
Sure enough, criticism came quickly.
Elie Mystal, co-editor of the legal affairs website Above the Law, ridiculed the decision. "I'm happy -- I'm thrilled, even -- that law school administrations are noticing their graduates cannot get jobs in this economy. . . . But of all the things a school might do to help students get jobs, artificially inflating grades retroactively seems like the most shallow and cosmetic 'solution' possible," Mystal wrote.
In an e-mail Friday, Mystal said he found it particularly unusual that Loyola is retroactively changing grades for graduating classes back to 2007. "All Loyola has done is make sure all the area employers know that those transcripts are artificially inflated," he said.
However, Scott Altman, vice dean at USC's law school, defended such changes. His school's most recent revision, in 2008, increased the mean grade for first-year students from 3.2 to 3.3. That was done to match UCLA, he said.
"We didn't want local or national employers to mistakenly think our students had lower grades than students at comparable schools," he said.
Altman said he assumes Loyola acted in good faith. "It's not in their interest to have rampant grade inflation," he said.
Gold said class rankings, a more important measure for potential employers, were unaffected. But he said some employers would not consider applicants with grades below a certain level and that the old system unfairly kept some below that.
The grading system does not require a percentage of A's, Bs and Cs but sets a mean and has standard deviations above and below. A score of 81 previously was assigned a B-minus and now will be a B, he said.
Students who had researched other schools' policies pushed for the revision, said Seth Weiner, president of Loyola's Day Student Bar Assn. "The vast majority of students are incredibly excited to have their grades boosted," Weiner said, adding that a small number worried that employers would devalue their grades.
Weiner predicted that any controversy would be short-lived. "Lawyers as a community are really good at nitpicking and complaining about changes," he said. "I don't give it much weight."