Yale Law School began a mass exodus last November. Dozens of America’s most elite law schools and medical schools have vowed not to work with the giants in the U.S. News & World Report rankings. Administrators complained that the formula that distorted publishers’ priorities was flawed, as was the idea that schools could be scored and categorized like mattresses or microwave ovens.
Critics of the rankings dared to hope that undergraduate programs at the same universities would leave as well. But despite generations of civilian complaints about U.S. News, most of those universities apparently avoided the uprising. Yale, Harvard and dozens of other universities continue to submit data for U.S. News’ annual undergraduate rankings, the 2024 edition of which is expected to be released on Monday.
“It’s been very stable, and that’s a good thing,” said Eric J. Gertler, executive chairman of U.S. News.
So far, the uprising has only underscored the spiritual grip the rankings have over American higher education, even at the nation’s most prestigious schools. Rankings remain the gateway and an easy way to reach and attract potential applicants. And their reach extends beyond prospective students, as proud alumni and donors also track them.
Many administrators also pay attention to what happens to rebels. Reed College’s rankings plummeted from the second quartile to the fourth quartile in one year after its decision to stop contributing to the rankings in 1995.
Add to that a sense of futility — U.S. News promises to rank even schools that drop out — and administrators often choose to take the easiest, most obvious path, even if it’s not as enthusiastic. feel that it is about following compliance.
“I think their concern is that if they decline, it’s going to hurt them,” said Scott Cowen, former president of Tulane University. “They’re happy to stay because they don’t want to make waves. If they leave, unless they’re already known as a good university, people will say, ‘You didn’t rank high enough, so you left.’ ” ”
Of the colleges where at least one college has abandoned U.S. News, few were willing to explain their continued allegiance to the undergraduate rankings. Most of the more than 20 schools contacted by The New York Times in recent weeks, including Duke University, Harvard University, Penn State University, Stanford University, Yale University and the University of California, Los Angeles, either did not respond or declined to comment. .
But administrators willing to speak publicly said the rankings remain important in gaining attention in a crowded higher education market, and there’s more to it. 2,500 four-year institutions Choose from. (There are less than 200) law school Approved by the American Bar Association. )
“From our perspective, this is a very selective university whose medical school has withdrawn from the rankings,” said Andrew D. Martin, president of Washington University in St. Louis.
What’s more, given that U.S. News claims to rank its preferred schools, “I’m not even sure that withdrawing actually means anything,” he said.
That’s especially true if colleges here and there are pulling out, as some administrators feel that to overturn the power of U.S. News, a wide range of schools, especially those at or near the top, will need to revolt.
“We were confident that more schools would participate,” said L. Song Richardson, president of the University of Colorado. The University of Colorado tied for 27th place among liberal arts colleges last year, but then announced it would stop funding U.S. News. “It’s too bad that didn’t happen.”
Columbia University was the highest ranked school to withdraw after last year’s rankings were released. However, the move comes after the school dropped its ranking from second to 18th after submitting misleading data.
Richardson said the rankings are “so ingrained” in higher education that it’s unthinkable for many administrators not to participate, especially as they face pressures from changing demographics and declining enrollment. said. For schools that don’t have the prestige of Princeton or the University of California, Berkeley, rankings can be one of the school’s most powerful marketing tools. Gertler said U.S. News’ education coverage receives more than 100 million online visitors a year.
“It’s important to be part of the conversation and to be included in the conversation,” said Gonzaga University President Thayne M. McCullough, who ranked 83rd. The university recently ended its collaboration with U.S. News.
U.S. News employs a variety of methodologies to evaluate undergraduate programs and professional schools, and the content of complaints varies by ranking (and by dean). Dr McCullough suggested it was important that publishers avoided a one-size-fits-all formula.
“I think it’s fair for law schools to decide whether that ranking methodology is right for them,” Dr. McCullough said. “This is a different approach than might be used to rank undergraduate programs.”
U.S. News said this month that the overall methodology for undergraduate rankings had been “changed more significantly than in previous years,” a step that could deter future uprisings.
Most of the changes are not detailed publicly by the company, but include changing the weighting of some factors to place “more emphasis on the social mobility and outcomes of graduating college students,” and This included removing five factors such as rate and undergraduate class. size. While the changes are unlikely to change the top or bottom of the rankings, they could make a big difference for schools that have struggled to encourage donations from alumni, for example.
But U.S. News continues to publish investigations into academic leaders, despite long-standing complaints that they are essentially popularity contests swayed by competition, bias, clever marketing, and perhaps a little horse-trading. It is expected to be.
U.S. News’ Gertler defended the rigor of the company’s approach, saying it is a consumer service.
“We are focused on helping students make the best decisions about their education,” he said.
It’s not at all clear how many students will notice or even care about the change.
A recent survey found that nearly three-fifths of high school seniors planning to attend college “consider” rankings to some extent, but more than half reported that universities place too much emphasis on rankings. According to the consulting firm Art & Science Group. public universities and private universities.
Administrators and researchers say students often use rankings to create an initial list of suitable candidates, but they also base their decisions on other factors, from financial aid packages to cafeteria breakfast and dinner buffets. The final admission decision may be made based on the results.
When it comes to rankings, students “seem to be more interested in the neighborhood than the street address,” says Arts & Science Group Principal David Strauss.
The threat of defection has not yet disappeared. Berkeley’s withdrawal from the law school leaves open the possibility of future changes. Spokesperson Janet Gilmore said no university-wide decision has been made about participating in the rankings because the campus “has not yet had an opportunity to collectively think and discuss this issue.”
For now, Berkeley continues to use its position as part of its marketing arsenal.
In an attractive “Cal Facts” brochure, next to a section touting the number of Nobel Prize winners among Berkeley’s faculty and alumni, the university notes that the university is ranked “No. 1 in the world by U.S. News & World Report. It is a public institution of ”