The University of Illinois has confirmed its law school inflated the credentials of its incoming class on the school’s website.

The law school had reported a median score on the Law School Admission Test of 168 when the correct median score was 163, the university said. Similarly, the school reported a median grade point average of 3.81 when the correct figure was 3.70.

The university’s ethics office launched an investigation into the published figures after being tipped off Aug. 26 that the numbers on its website and in several law school publications were incorrect.

“The University of Illinois College of Law sincerely regrets the inaccuracy of our previous posting, and the confusion and concern that this matter has caused,” said Richard Wheeler, provost of the university’s Champaign-Urbana campus. “The university places the highest priority on accuracy and integrity. All data and any causes of error will be reviewed rigorously and comprehensively, with appropriate action taken.”

The inaccurate credentials provided for the new law class had not yet been reported to the American Bar Association, and investigators were examining the veracity of the student credentials reported in previous years. The university did not specify the cause of the incorrect numbers or whether they were intentional.

The school reported to the ABA that last year’s incoming class had a median LSAT score of 167 and a median GPA of 3.80. Those figures are much closer to the incorrect numbers provided this year than the actual figures uncovered by the investigation. Median LSAT and GPA scores tend not to fluctuate significantly year-to-year.

Earlier this year, an investigation revealed that Villanova University School of Law had falsified LSAT and GPAs since at least 2002. Villanova blamed its former dean and admissions officials, and the school was censured by the ABA.

Grade Inflation

The fact that a second law school had fallen under suspicion within a year raised questions. How widespread is the inflation of the academic credentials? What is being done to ensure law schools are honest?

“It really makes you wonder,” said Sarah Zearfoss, senior assistant dean for admissions, financial aid and career planning at the University of Michigan Law School. “There have been schools that my colleagues and I thought were cheating because we knew enough about their applicant pools that their numbers didn’t seem credible. Maybe they really weren’t credible.”

Plenty of attention has been paid during the past two years to what critics see as the manipulation of graduate employment and salary data by law schools. The ABA has adopted reforms intended to clamp down on the misrepresentation of jobs data and to increase accountability.

The accuracy of the grades and LSAT scores that law schools report each year — which U.S. News & World Report weights heavily in its annual law school rankings, and which are taken seriously by prospective students and employers — had not been a major focus, however.

“We’re concerned with all consumer information, whether it’s on the front end or the back end,” said Kyle McEntee, executive director of Law School Trans­parency, a nonprofit organization formed in 2010 by two then-Vanderbilt law students that advocates for more accurate jobs data.

“We have been more focused on increasing the amount of employment data. That’s probably the biggest priority for law students. And it’s hard to know how widespread” misreporting might be, he said. “It could be a huge problem, but that seems unlikely.”

Obvious Solution

Just how many law schools are goosing their GPA and LSAT numbers is an open question. Law schools self-report those statistics to the ABA, which does not perform any regular auditing, said Hulett “Bucky” Askew, the ABA’s consultant for legal education. An ABA representative does examine each law school’s records as part of its accreditation site visit every seven years.

“We don’t audit the data that a school produces, but we do continuously look at the data to see if there are anomalies,” Askew said. “We’re further developing our process for identifying anomalies.”

The ABA’s internal review process wasn’t triggered for either Villanova or Illinois, both of which reported their problems.

McEntee suggested an obvious way to eliminate any suspicion about incoming student data or temptation by admissions officers to lie would be to have the Law School Admission Council calculate the statistics.

The council administers the LSAT and operates the credential assembly service, a centralized computer application system used by nearly all U.S. law schools. It holds records for every enrolled law student, including his or her LSAT score and undergraduate GPA.

Taking responsibility for calculating and reporting LSAT and GPA data out of the hands of individual law schools would ensure all institutions are playing by the same rules, McEntee said.

“There’s no reason not to,” he said. “It’s all in their database, and there are no student privacy concerns because it’s all calculated in the aggregate.”