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Why Yale and Harvard law schools are ditching US News rankings

FILE – In this Aug. 1, 2005 file photo, a bicyclist walks by Langdell Hall, the Harvard Law Library, on the Harvard Law School campus at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)

Yale Law School and Harvard Law School on Wednesday announced they will no longer participate in U.S. News and World Report’s powerful ranking system used by prospective students as they decide where to go to school.

The decisions from two of the nation’s top law schools mark a major blow for the magazine, which for years has issued some of the most prominent annual rankings of colleges.

The two law schools’ deans wrote separate messages that echoed similar criticisms of the ranking system, arguing it disincentivizes the schools from prioritizing financial aid based on need and encouraging students to take on public interest careers, which typically come with lower salaries.

“Rankings are useful only when they follow sound methodology and confine their metrics to what the data can reasonably capture — factors I’ve described in my own research on election administration,” Yale Law School Dean Heather Gerken said in a statement, noting it is ditching the system despite taking the top spot each year in the ranking.

“Over the years, however, U.S. News has refused to meet those conditions despite repeated calls from law school deans to change,” Gerken added. “Instead, the magazine continues to take data — much of it supplied by the law schools solely to U.S. News — and applies a misguided formula that discourages law schools from doing what is best for legal education.”

Both deans took aim at the ranking’s emphasis on students’ test scores and college grades, suggesting the system incentivises law schools to direct their financial aid resources toward top-scoring students to draw them to enroll.

“Though [Harvard Law School] and [Yale Law School] have each resisted the pull toward so-called merit aid, it has become increasingly prevalent, absorbing scarce resources that could be allocated more directly on the basis of need,” Harvard Law School Dean John Manning said in a statement.

Eric Gertler, U.S. News’s executive chairman and CEO, said its rankings are designed for students seeking the “best decision” on where to attend law school.

“We will continue to fulfill our journalistic mission of ensuring that students can rely on the best and most accurate information in making that decision,” Gertler said. “As part of our mission, we must continue to ensure that law schools are held accountable for the education they will provide to these students and that mission does not change with these recent announcements.”

Gerken and Manning both criticized how U.S. News factors students’ debt into the rankings.

Manning said the debt factor further creates confusion because it does not account for whether schools are lowering debt through financial aid or achieving the same effect by admitting more wealthy students who would not take on debt in the first place.

“The debt metric gives prospective students no way to tell which is which,” Manning wrote. “And to the extent the debt metric creates an incentive for schools to admit better resourced students who don’t need to borrow, it risks harming those it is trying to help.”

The two deans also suggested students who pursue public interest careers lower schools’ rankings, because those jobs often come with lower salaries compared to those at high-paying private firms.

Gerken indicated the ranking excludes loan forgiveness programs, which are often used for those in public interest careers,  

“Loan forgiveness programs matter enormously to students interested in service, as they partially or entirely forgive the debts of students taking low-paying public interest jobs,” Gerken wrote. 

“But the rankings exclude them when calculating debt even though they can entirely erase a student’s loans,” she continued. “In short, when law schools devote resources to encouraging students to pursue public interest careers, U.S. News mischaracterizes them as low-employment schools with high debt loads.”

—Updated Thursday at 9:45 a.m.

Tags Student debt

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