One of the biggest stories in legal academia over the last few months has been law schools dropping like flies from the U.S. News rankings. It began in November when Yale Law School announced they were pulling out of the rankings, and that quickly escalated to over 20 percent of law schools exiting along with Yale. U.S. News changed their methodology in an effort to soften critics, but the situation hasn’t gotten any better. In fact, it’s worse, with the boycott of U.S. News spreading to elite medical schools as well.
Now U.S. News is on the offensive against its critics. Eric Gertler, executive chairman and CEO of U.S. News & World Report, penned an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal accusing those schools exiting the rankings of gatekeeping the sort of information that perspective students need to make informed decisions:
Choosing the right school is one of the most important decisions students will ever make. Besides being a significant investment of time and money, it is a critical first step to ensuring a student’s future career opportunities, earning potential, and quality of life. But absent U.S. News’s academic rankings, it’s difficult to find accurate, comprehensive information that empowers students to compare institutions and identify the factors that matter most to them. We are one of the few places that do.
Our rankings don’t capture every nuance. Academic institutions aren’t monolithic or static; comparing them across a common data set can be challenging. But we reject our critics’ paternalistic view that students are somehow incapable of discerning for themselves from this information which school is the best fit.
Of course, U.S. News — which keeps a fair amount of its data on law schools paywalled — isn’t the only source for comprehensive law school data. And U.S. News can (and will) continue ranking law schools based on the publicly available data collected by the American Bar Association.
Gertler continues his attack:
Instead, elite schools object to our use of a common data set for all schools because our rankings are something they can’t control and they don’t want to be held accountable by an independent third party.
Listen, a lot of schools have pulled out of the ranking and that probably means there is a pretty diverse set of reasons for that (even if they’re only honest behind closed doors). But let’s not forget how this all started — with the number one law school pulling out. Yale has been so dominant in the rankings that no other law school has ever been ranked #1. They aren’t trying to avoid being held accountable because U.S. News never held them accountable. And let’s be frank — abandoning the rankings is pretty much the only thing Yale could’ve done to give any other law school a chance to be at the tippy top of the rankings. It’s a great pull quote that gets a bunch of attention, but avoiding accountability is not why any of this started.
And none of the op-ed addresses concerns about the actual quality of the rankings U.S. News produces, as Mike Spivey, of Spivey Consulting, notes:
U.S. News has no expertise in law or legal education. They have no expertise in education in general. Imagine if a bunch of lawyers got together and decided to rank the best immunology programs. That’s the absurdity of what U.S. News does. At least when Above the Law publishes its rankings they come from actual lawyers and law school graduates.
U.S. News’ methodology is nonsensical at times. LSAT and GPA are five times as important as bar passage. Career outcomes account for 18% weight, while the reputational surveys of law professors and deans account for 25%. No offense to any law professors or deans reading this, but prospective students care a lot more about whether they’ll have a job than how prestigious you think some other school (that you probably know very little about) is. The GRE sub-scores get weighted at different amounts, because… reasons? And so on. Their secret-sauce formula isn’t complicated; a reasonably intelligent college freshman could replicate it.
Make no mistake about it, law schools pulling out of the U.S. News ranking is a big deal and Gertler’s op-ed shows just how problematic it is for the rankings powerhouse.
Kathryn Rubino is a Senior Editor at Above the Law, host of The Jabot podcast, and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. AtL tipsters are the best, so please connect with her. Feel free to email her with any tips, questions, or comments and follow her on Twitter @Kathryn1 or Mastodon @Kathryn1@mastodon.social.