BY AIMEE PICCHI
NOVEMBER 16, 2022 / 4:47 PM / MONEYWATCH
Officials at Yale’s and Harvard’s law schools said Wednesday the institutions will no longer participate in U.S. News & World Report’s annual rankings of the top law schools. An official at Yale Law School called the methodology behind the influential listing “profoundly flawed.”
Yale Law School Dean Heather K. Gerken, who made the announcement in a blog post, said the rankings discourage universities from admitting low-income students and supporting those who wish to pursue careers in public service. Tuition and housing at Yale Law School — whose alumni include former President Bill Clinton and four of the current Supreme Court justices — run nearly $97,000 per year. Tuition and living expenses for Harvard Law School are more than $107,000 annually.
“We have reached a point where the rankings process is undermining the core commitments of the legal profession,” wrote Gerken, who noted that Yale Law School “has taken the top spot every year” since the rankings began. “As a result, we will no longer participate.”
She added, “Its approach not only fails to advance the legal profession, but stands squarely in the way of progress.”
In an email sent Wednesday to the Harvard Law School community that was shared with CBS MoneyWatch, Harvard Law School Dean John Manning said the institution was likewise dropping out of the rankings “because it has become impossible to reconcile our principles and commitments with the methodology and incentives the U.S. News rankings reflect.”
He also acknowledged Yale Law School’s announcement made earlier in the day. Harvard is ranked No. 4 in U.S News & World Report’s annual list of top law schools.
The critiques from two of the nation’s top law schools come amid renewed focus on the U.S. News & World Report and similar college rankings, with critics saying their approaches reinforce income inequality and effectively reduce diversity at elite schools. For instance, one measure in U.S. News & World Report’s methodology for ranking universities is “reputation,” or how college officials appraise rival schools — a quality that critics say has little to do with a college’s ability to educate students.
U.S. News & World Report also came under fire earlier this year after Columbia University admitted that it had submitted inaccurate data in earlier years that had helped bolster its ranking to No. 2. As a result of those errors, Columbia said it wouldn’t provide information to U.S. News while it reviewed its data collection.
Despite Columbia’s decision against submitting data this year, U.S. News went ahead and ranked the university, with the result that the Ivy League school tumbled from No. 2 to No. 18.
To be sure, neither Yale nor Harvard are likely to be harmed by withdrawing from the rankings, given their strong reputations and notable alumni, many of whom have scaled the summits of political and judicial success. Both also have deep pockets to help students from low-income backgrounds. Harvard’s endowment stands at about $50 billion and Yale’s at about $41.4 billion, making them the first and third-wealthiest universities in the nation.
In a statement emailed to CBS MoneyWatch, U.S. News & World Report Executive Chairman Eric Gertler said that the publication’s “Best Law Schools” rankings “are for students seeking the best decision for their law education.”
He added. “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 this recent announcement.”
“The most troubling aspects”
Yale Law School’s Gerken wrote that “one of the most troubling aspects” of the magazine’s rankings is that it discourages law schools from providing support for students who want to pursue public interest careers. That’s because the rankings exclude loan-forgiveness programs when calculating student debt loads, she noted.
Harvard’s Manning underscored similar concerns, noting that the rankings “work against law schools’ commitments to enhancing the socioeconomic diversity of our classes,” adding that its methodology “undermines the efforts of many law schools to support public interest careers for their graduates.”
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program was created in 2007 with the goal of forgiving the student debt of Americans who work in public service jobs, which range from public school teachers to public interest lawyers who work for the government or nonprofits.
Gerken also called out U.S. News’ emphasis on median LSAT/GRE scores and GPAs, which account for 20% of a law school’s overall ranking. Some experts have criticized standardized tests because students from wealthier households tend to score better, reflecting their ability to take pricey test prep classes or tutoring.
“This heavily weighted metric imposes tremendous pressure on schools to overlook promising students, especially those who cannot afford expensive test preparation courses,” she said.