U.S. News: Law school rankings will continue, even as more schools opt out

"We at HLS (Harvard Law School) have made this decision because it has become impossible to reconcile our principles and commitments with the methodology and incentives the U.S. News rankings reflect," wrote Dean John Manning.

In less than a week, Yale, Harvard, Berkley, Columbia, Georgetown and Stanford have all opted out of U.S. News & World Report’s rankings of the best law schools.

The movement was initiated by Yale University last Wednesday when the school’s dean announced that the institution will no longer submit its data for review.

According to a post from Dean Heather K. Gerken, the rankings lack merit and cause more harm than good.

Since its inception, the news organization has placed Yale’s law school at the top of the rankings every year. However, the university has never advertised that distinction. Gerken wrote, “We have invested significant energy and capital in important initiatives that make our law school a better place but perversely work to lower our test scores.

“That’s because the U.S. News rankings are profoundly flawed—they disincentivize programs that support public interest careers, champion need-based aid, and welcome working-class students into the profession,” she continued. “We have reached the point where the rankings process is undermining the core commitments of the legal profession. As a result, we will no longer participate.”

Just hours later, Harvard Law School withdrew, followed by four other top law schools in the country over the weekend. Harvard has placed in the top three every year except two, including last year when it was ranked No. 4.

“We at HLS (Harvard Law School) have made this decision because it has become impossible to reconcile our principles and commitments with the methodology and incentives the U.S. News rankings reflect,” wrote Dean John Manning. “This decision was not made lightly and only after considerable deliberation over the past several months.”

Despite their critique, U.S. News wrote that the rankings will persist.

“We respect each institution’s decision to choose whether or not to submit their data to U.S. News,” the organization wrote. “However, U.S. News has a responsibility to prospective students to provide comparative information that allows them to assess these institutions. U.S. News will therefore continue to rank the nearly 200 accredited law schools in the United States.”

Cause for withdrawal

While each school has its respective reason for opting out, each of them finds fault with the organization’s methodology. According to Gerken, U.S. News leaves out valuable data that she believes shouldn’t be ignored.

“One of the most troubling aspects of the U.S. News rankings is that it discourages law schools from providing critical support for students seeking public interest careers and devalues graduates pursuing graduate degrees,” she wrote. “The rankings exclude a crucial form of support for public interest careers—loan forgiveness programs—when calculating student debt loans. But the rankings exclude them when calculating debt even though they can entirely erase a student’s loans.”

Furthermore, she found fault with how heavily student test scores weighed in the rankings.

“Today, 20% of a law school’s overall ranking is based on median LSAT/GRE scores and GPAs. While academic scores are an important tool, they don’t always capture the full measure of an applicant. This heavily weighted metric imposes tremendous pressure on schools to overlook promising students, especially those who cannot afford expensive test preparation courses.

“It also pushes schools to use financial aid to recruit high-scoring students. As a result, millions of dollars of scholarship money now go to students with the highest scores, not the greatest need.”

Like Gerken, Harvard Law’s leader argues that the rankings undermine schools’ efforts to support public interest careers.

“We share, and have expressed to U.S. News, the concern that their debt metric ignores school-funded loan forgiveness programs in calculating student debt,” Manning wrote. “Such loan forgiveness programs assist students who pursue lower-paying jobs, typically in the public sector. We have joined other schools in also sharing with U.S. News our concern about the magazine’s decision to discount, in the employment ranking, professional positions held by those who receive public interest fellowships funded by their home schools.”


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Micah Ward
Micah Wardhttp://universitybusiness.com
Micah Ward is a University Business staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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