Yale Law School — long ranked No. 1 by U.S. News & World Report — is quitting the magazine’s rankings, it announced Wednesday. Hours after that announcement, which was first reported by The Wall Street Journal, Harvard Law School said it would do the same.
“U.S. News stands in the way of progress for legal education and the profession,” said Heather Gerken, Yale Law School’s dean. “It’s made it harder for law schools to admit and support low-income students, and it’s undermining efforts to launch a generation to serve. Now is the time to take a step.”
Specifically, Gerken criticized U.S. News for relying heavily on student test scores in its law-school rankings, which could discourage schools from admitting promising students who can’t pay for test prep, and for giving lower scores to programs where many students take school-funded fellowships, which Yale uses to support students pursuing public-interest careers, she wrote in a statement.
The magazine pushed back against Gerken’s remarks. “We are committed to our journalistic mission of ensuring that students can rely on the best and most accurate information in making decisions about their education,” Madeline Smanik, a U.S. News spokesperson, wrote in a statement. For example, she wrote, the magazine gives less credit to school-funded fellowships because it’s “focused on determining whether a school is helping its students obtain positions in the open job market.”
Several researchers who study rankings told The Chronicle that Yale’s decision is a big deal. Yale has been No. 1 in U.S. News’s law-school list since 1994, Smanik confirmed.
“For a school that’s been ranked so well over the years to say that they are going to resist the rankings and not participate, it’s a very public statement about the limitations of the ranking,” said Michael Sauder, a professor of sociology at the University of Iowa who has, among other research, interviewed more than 100 law-school administrators and faculty members about their views on the U.S. News ranking.
As long as a decade ago, administrators described to Sauder struggling to balance goals regarding equity and climbing the rankings. “I don’t think Yale is unique in their recognition of this problem,” he said. “By them moving first on this, other schools might feel comfortable doing the same.”
The Chronicle contacted the dean’s offices of the top 10 ranked law schools. Only one, the University of Pennsylvania’s Carey Law School, replied with comment: “Penn Carey Law applauds Yale Law and Harvard Law for their leadership in raising key questions for all law schools by withdrawing from the U.S. News & World Report rankings,” a spokesperson wrote. “We are evaluating this issue and assessing a process for our own decision-making.”
But even the departures of Yale and Harvard — which is tied for 4th in the 2022-23 law-school rankings — represents a shakeup for the ranker that has dominated consumer attention around colleges for decades.
“It’s certainly not good news for the U.S. News, as its legitimacy as a ranking agency rests on its ability to produce a plausible status hierarchy,” Jelena Brankovic, a sociologist at Bielefeld University in Germany who studies rankings, wrote in a message. If some of the biggest names in American higher ed are missing from the law-school list, “the credibility and usefulness of the list in the eyes of students may be brought into question,” she wrote.
The development comes amid broader scrutiny of the magazine’s college rankings. In the past year, observers have questioned the accuracy of data that Columbia and Rutgers universities and the University of Southern California have sent to various U.S. News lists.
It remains to be seen whether Yale and Harvard will show up in next year’s list. Historically, when colleges have declined to participate in U.S. News’s ranking of undergraduate programs, analysts have calculated a rank for those institutions anyway. In this case, a U.S. News spokesperson wrote, “We are reviewing options.”