NEW HAVEN, Connecticut -- Yale and Harvard law schools, two of the premier law schools in the country, have each held a spot on the U.S. News & World Report's list of best law schools for decades. Now, the schools are bowing out.
Every year, U.S. News releases a list of the country's best colleges, including a list of the best law schools, using data submitted by each school. This list is then used by students and employers to judge the merits of the college or university.
But on Wednesday, deans at both law schools announced they would no longer be participating in the annual list, criticizing the publication's methodology and arguing that the list actively perpetuates disparities in law schools.
"While I sincerely believe that U.S. News operates with the best of intentions, it faces a nearly impossible task, ranking 192 law schools with a small set of one-size-fits-all metrics that cannot provide an accurate picture of such varied institutions," wrote Heather Gerken, the dean of Yale Law School. "Its approach not only fails to advance the legal profession, but stands squarely in the way of progress."
John Manning, dean of Harvard Law School, echoed those sentiments, saying the way U.S. News chooses to do its rankings "undermines the efforts of many law schools to support public interest careers for their graduates."
"We share, and have expressed to U.S. News, the concern that their debt metric ignores school-funded loan forgiveness programs in calculating student debt. Such loan forgiveness programs assist students who pursue lower paying jobs, typically in the public interest sector," Manning noted in a statement posted on the school's website.
Eric Gertler, the executive chairman and CEO of U.S. News, defended the rankings in a statement to CNN, calling the lists part of its "journalistic mission" and a way to hold law schools accountable.
"The U.S. News Best Law Schools rankings are for students seeking the best decision for their law education. 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. "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 this recent announcement."
Still, Gerken argued that the magazine actively discourages law schools from providing aid by placing heavy emphasis on LSAT and GRE scores, as well as GPAs. That emphasis pressures schools to turn down promising students who may not have been able to afford test preparation courses, and pushes schools to use financial aid on high-scoring students, rather than the students that need it the most, she said.
The rankings also penalize colleges for supporting students seeking public interest careers, or pursuing PhD and master's degrees, Gerken said.
"Unfortunately, the rankings system has made it increasingly difficult for law schools to provide robust support for students who serve their communities, to admit students from low-income backgrounds, and to target financial aid to the students most in need," Gerken wrote.
Manning agreed that a focus on prospective students' merit has impacted how the school distributes its financial aid.
"Though HLS and YLS have each resisted the pull toward so-called merit aid, it has become increasingly prevalent, absorbing scarce resources that could be allocated more directly on the basis of need," Manning said.
Given the status of Yale and Harvard as two of the most sought-after law schools in the country, their move is significant. For years, policymakers and those working in higher education have dismissed the rankings, though they are still referenced by potential students and their families. Still, the move by Yale and Harvard could signal a greater shift away from college rankings.
Though the decisions have been met with praise, some questioned whether the move, if followed by other schools, would simply make it more difficult for the average person to choose to which colleges to apply.
In her statement, Gerken said the school will instead provide prospective students with data "in a public, transparent, and useful form" to help in their decision making.
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