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Yale and Harvard law schools abandon U.S. News college rankings

Vanderbilt Hall stands on the Yale University campus in New Haven, Conn., in 2015. (Bloomberg News/Getty Images)
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Yale Law School and Harvard Law School said Wednesday that they will no longer participate in U.S. News & World Report’s annual college rankings, calling into question the methodology and values of the famed system.

“The 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,” Yale Law School Dean Heather K. Gerken wrote in a blog post announcing the decision Wednesday. “We have reached a point where the rankings process is undermining the core commitments of the legal profession.”

Yale Law has routinely taken the top spot in the magazine’s law school rankings. All the same, Gerken said the publication uses a misguided formula that “not only fails to advance the legal profession, but stands squarely in the way of progress.”

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In the same vein as Gerken, Harvard Law School Dean John F. Manning disavowed the rankings for creating “perverse incentives that influence schools’ decisions in ways that undercut student choice and harm the interests of potential students.”

In a blog post, he wrote that the school chose to bow out because it has become “impossible to reconcile our principles and commitments with the methodology and incentives the U.S. News rankings reflect.”

Manning said Harvard Law, which is ranked No. 4, has raised concerns to the magazine about methodology that work against law schools’ efforts to enhance socioeconomic diversity and support students from lower-income households.

Both Manning and Gerken take issue with U.S. News’ emphasis on LSAT scores and GPAs, which account for 20 percent of a law school’s overall ranking, saying it encourages institutions to disregard promising students with low test scores.

They also said the magazine ignores school-funded loan forgiveness programs in calculating student debt loads, which disincentivizes institutions from supporting students who want to pursue public interest careers.

Harvard University did not immediately respond to requests for comment on whether it would follow its law school’s lead and also bow out of the rankings.

Yale spokesperson Karen Peart said the law school’s decision does not preclude the university or other schools at Yale from participating in the rankings. She said, “Each school must carefully consider what is best for their school and community.”

Eric Gertler, executive chairman and chief executive of U.S. News, defended the magazine’s law school rankings as a critical tool for students.

“We will continue to fulfill our journalistic mission of ensuring that students can rely on the best and most accurate information in making that decision,” Gertler said in a statement. “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 these recent announcements.”

U.S. News & World Report faced mounting criticism of its rankings this year after a Columbia University professor questioned the data the Ivy League school had submitted to the publication. Columbia later disclosed that it had reported faulty data on class size and faculty credentials, and skipped the annual rankings as it reviewed the matter. As a result, Columbia dropped from No. 2 to No. 18.

Long before that, U.S. News had drawn the ire of higher education advocates who assailed the rankings for fueling a chase for prestige to the detriment of institutions and students. Without naming the annual listing, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona in August denounced rankings that value wealth and exclusivity over economic mobility and return on investment, a comment that was widely considered a shot at U.S. News.

It’s difficult to say whether Yale and Harvard law schools’ exit will impact the reputation or direction of the annual rankings. The famed scoring system still has clout even as a crop of competitors has emerged in recent years. The ranking formula has evolved, with more emphasis on student retention and graduation. College and university leaders are routinely critical and dismissive of the listing, but thousands of schools continue to participate.