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Dean Gerken: Why is Yale Law School dropping US News & World Report rankings?

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Yale Law School Dean Heather K. Gerken has issued the following statement regarding US news and world report classifications:


For three decades, US news and world report, a for-profit magazine, has ranked the educational quality of law schools across the country. Since the beginning, Yale Law School has been ranked number one every year. However, that distinction is not one we advertise or use as a lodestar to chart our course. In fact, in recent years, we have invested a significant amount of energy and capital in major initiatives that make our law school a better place, but work perversely to lower our scores. That’s because the US News The rankings are deeply flawed: They discourage programs that support careers in the public interest, advocate for need-based aid, and welcome working-class students into the profession. We have reached a point where the classification process is undermining the fundamental commitments of the legal profession. As a result, we will no longer participate.

It’s completely understandable that many schools feel compelled to adhere to the preferences of a trade magazine, as applicants, employers, and alumni take rankings seriously. But rankings are useful only when they follow a robust methodology and limit their metrics to what the data can reasonably capture, factors I’ve described in my own research on election administration. Over the years, however, US News it has refused to comply with those conditions despite repeated calls from law school deans to change. Instead, the journal continues to collect data, much of it supplied by law schools solely to US News — and applies the wrong formula that discourages law schools from doing their best for legal education. Although I sincerely believe that US News operating with the best of intentions, it is faced with a nearly impossible task, ranking 192 law schools with a small set of unique metrics that cannot provide an accurate picture of such varied institutions. His approach not only fails to advance the legal profession, it stands squarely in the way of progress.

One of the most worrisome aspects of the US News rankings is that it discourages law schools from providing critical support to students pursuing public interest careers and devalues ​​graduates seeking advanced degrees. Because service is the cornerstone of our profession, Yale Law School is proud to award far more public interest scholarships per student than any of our peers. These scholarships have allowed some of our best students to serve their communities and the nation with our money. Although our fellowships are highly selective and pay salaries comparable to outside fellowships, US News seems to discount these invaluable opportunities to such an extent that these graduates are effectively classified as unemployed. When it comes to bright students preparing for a far-reaching academic life or career by earning a coveted Ph.D. and masters, US News does the same Both options are a venerable tradition at Yale Law School, and these career options should be valued and encouraged throughout legal education.

Additionally, the rankings exclude a crucial form of support for public interest careers, loan forgiveness programs, when calculating student debt burdens. Loan forgiveness programs are very important to service-minded students, partially or fully forgiving the debts of students who take low-paying public interest jobs. But the rankings exclude them when calculating debt even though they can wipe out a student’s loans entirely. In short, when law schools devote resources to encouraging students to pursue careers in the public interest, US News mischaracterizes them as low-employment schools with high debt loads. That backwards approach discourages law schools across the country from supporting students who dream of a career in the service.

the US News The rankings also discourage law schools from admitting and aiding students with great promise who may come from modest means. Today, 20% of a law school’s overall rank is made up of the median LSAT/GRE and GPA scores. While academic scores are an important tool, they don’t always capture the full measure of an applicant. This heavily weighted metric puts tremendous pressure on schools to pass up promising students, especially those who can’t afford expensive test prep courses. It also pushes schools to use financial aid to recruit high-scoring students. As a result, millions of dollars of scholarship money now goes to the highest-achieving students, not the most needy. At a time when economic equity concerns are at the center of our national dialogue, only two law schools in the country continue to provide aid based entirely on need: Harvard and Yale. This year alone, Yale Law School doubled down on that commitment and launched a free scholarship for students who come from families below the poverty line. These students overcame almost insurmountable obstacles to get to Yale, and their stories are nothing short of inspiring. Unfortunately, US News it has made it difficult for other law schools to remove the financial barriers that deter talented minds from joining our profession.

finally the path US News Student debt accounts further undermine the efforts of law schools to recruit the most capable students into the profession. In his favor, US News has recognized that debt can deter excellent students from becoming lawyers and has tried to help by giving weight to a metric that is based on the average debt of graduating students and the percentage of students graduating with debt. However, a debt-only metric can backfire, incentivizing schools to admit students with the means to pay tuition instead of students with substantial financial need. A much better measure is how much financial aid a law school provides its students, rewarding schools that admit low-income students and support them along the way. That crucial measure receives inadequate weight in the rankings.

The people most harmed by this ill-conceived system are applicants for public service jobs and those on low incomes. They’re trying to make a sensible decision about their future, and law schools want to do right by them. Unfortunately, the ranking system has made it increasingly difficult for law schools to provide strong support for students serving their communities, admit low-income students, and target financial aid to students most in need. Although we will not send data to US News Moving forward, each year Yale Law School will provide future students with data that is public, transparent, and actionable to ensure they have the information they need to decide which law school is right for them.

Leaders in legal education must do everything possible to ensure that students of all backgrounds have the support and resources they need to enter our profession and contribute to society. Granting exclusive access to a flawed business classification system is counterproductive to the mission of this profession and the core values ​​of Yale Law School. While I don’t take this decision lightly, now is the time for us to step away from the rankings and go our own way as we work to advance legal education.

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