There has been a recent exodus of elite law schools participating in the US News and World Report (hereafter US News) rankings. Law schools at Yale, Harvard and a range of other top institutions do not believe the rankings accurately reflect their values.
For those who research rankings, the exodus is welcome news, as we have raised the alarm bells about the negative impacts these metrics have had in higher education, especially in the international education arena.
The law school ranking is a fairly complex metric composed of over a dozen categories. Below are all of the indicators US News included in the most recent rank metric:
• Peer assessment score (25% or rank)
• Lawyers and judges assessment score (15%)
• Employment rates for 2020 graduates 10 months after graduation (14%) and at graduation (4%)
• Bar passage rate (3%)
• Average debt incurred obtaining a Juris Doctor (JD) at graduation (3%) and the percent of law school graduates incurring JD law school debt (2%)
• Median Law School Admission Test and Graduate Record Examination scores (11.25%)
• Median undergraduate grade point average (8.75%)
• Acceptance rate (1%)
• The average spending on instruction, library and supporting services (9%) and the average spending on all other items, including financial aid (1%)
• Student-faculty ratio (2%)
• Library resources and operations (1%).
US News provides rationalisations for each indicator, along with changes it has made year to year. The metric was built with sector-wide outreach along with other indicators relevant to the legal profession, all weighted by the rankers. Despite all of this effort, law schools across the country are still rejecting the veracity of the ranking.
Faulty programme rankings
Our law school colleagues’ protest should inspire the rest of us, especially as other sectors do not even get close to the care that has gone into the US News law school ranking.
US News also provides a ranking for each of the following areas: first-year experiences, co-ops or internships, learning communities, senior capstone project, service learning, undergraduate research or creative projects, writing in the disciplines and study abroad.
Rather than a well-explained metric of elements that might be important in each of these areas, the magazine simply sends out a questionnaire to “college presidents, chief academic officers, deans of students and deans of admissions”, asking them to list up to “15 institutions with stellar examples” of these programme areas.
The rankers then simply add the responses together to compile their yearly ranking of universities that received at least 10 nominations in the questionnaire.
The current construction of the metrics in these academic areas is merely an afterthought for the magazine. The questionnaire mostly does not even target the people working in these areas. Our work is not just an afterthought; these areas are essential parts of the university and crucial to student life, and they deserve better care.