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Harvard and Yale Will No Longer Participate in U.S. News Law School Rankings

By Laura Temme, Esq. | Last updated on

Harvard and Yale's law schools announced this week that they will no longer submit themselves for ranking by U.S. News & World Report. Educators have criticized the methodology behind the magazine's Best Law School rankings for years but seemed reluctant to take concrete action against them.

Until now.

Not a Great View From the Top

Yale Law has nabbed the top spot in U.S. News rankings every year for the last three decades, but according to Dean Heather K. Gerken, that was not enough to continue supporting the ranking system:

"[T]he U.S. News rankings are profoundly flawed — they disincentivize programs that support public interest careers, champion need-based aid, and welcome working-class students into the profession. We have reached a point where the rankings process is undermining the core commitments of the legal profession."

Gerken argues that the rankings devalue Yale's public interest fellowships "to such an extent that these graduates are effectively classified as unemployed." And the same goes for Yale Law grads who go on to pursue master's or doctorate degrees.

Placement success accounts for 26% of a school's score, but it's unclear how U.S. News defines success in job placement.

Rankings Wrongfully Encourage Law Schools to Stay Elite

Both schools say that one of the most troubling outcomes triggered by law school rankings is the barriers they create for lower-income students.

For example, the U.S. News rankings fail to account for student loan forgiveness programs like Public Service Loan Forgiveness. Under the current metrics, students from schools that encourage entry into the public sector appear to have higher debt loads than those who don't, even though their loans will eventually be discharged.

The debt metrics also decrease a law school's incentive to provide financial aid to lower-income students. Harvard Law Dean John Manning pointed out in his announcement that the current metrics create "an incentive for schools to admit better resourced students who don't need to borrow."

In an industry that has struggled to diversify, continued barriers to students who are academically qualified but financially challenged are unacceptable. Harvard and Yale say they won't let the U.S. News rankings be one of those barriers anymore, but what about other institutions?

Will Other Schools Follow?

We doubt that the U.S. News rankings regime will crumble following this week's announcements. But the loss of schools ranked #1 and #4 could encourage other law schools to reconsider participating in the rankings. Columbia, whose law school currently shares the #4 spot with Harvard, had its own rankings kerfuffle earlier this year, resulting in the undergraduate school's withdrawal from U.S. News rankings.

Other long-standing facets of legal education, like the LSAT, have also begun to lose their appeal in recent years. Who knows? Maybe the bar exam will be next.

Hey, we can dream.

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