December 5, 2022
The question in the admissions world right now is fairly simple: Will the moves by leading law schools against the rankings of U.S. News & World Report spread to undergraduate institutions?
Eleven law schools, most recently at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Washington, have announced that they will stay out of the rankings. The first law school to announce that it was dropping out was Yale University, which has been the top-ranked law school by U.S. News since it started the rankings more than 30 years ago. But in the last week, two law schools, at Cornell University and the University of Chicago, announced that they would continue to participate with the rankings.
Many have been waiting for a similar push by undergraduate colleges. But thus far, they have been disappointed.
The First College to Challenge ‘U.S. News’
One undergraduate college has since 1995 refused to cooperate with U.S. News. Reed College took that stance, and stuck with it, after a story in The Wall Street Journal revealed that many colleges were “massaging” their numbers in various ways (some of which U.S. News has since banned them from doing). If you look up Reed in U.S. News, you’ll find it, ranked as (tied for) the 72nd best liberal arts college, arguably far below where it would be if it participated. U.S. News has many categories marked as “not applicable” (including the category of class sizes, on which Reed excels with many small classes). For other categories, U.S. News uses information from the government or information that Reed publishes on its own website.
Hugh Porter, vice president for college relations and planning at Reed, said “we’re happy to see it” of the law schools’ moves. But he said the college has not heard from other undergraduate colleges planning similar moves. “It’s early days,” he added.
While it was difficult to take on a rankings giant alone, he said Reed “has been liberated from thinking about where you sit.”
Colin Diver was president of Reed for 10 years, starting in 2002. This year he wrote a book blasting U.S. News, Breaking Ranks: How the Rankings Industry Rules Higher Education and What to Do About It (Johns Hopkins University Press).
Diver said he’s “puzzled” by why more colleges have not joined the law schools. He offered theories via email about why they haven’t.
One theory is that “undergraduate schools view their constituency (mostly 16- to 18-year-old high schoolers) as more naïve, gullible, impressionable (and therefore rankings-bewitched) than law schools view their constituencies (22- to 30-year-old college graduates and often early-careerists).” As a result, “at least many of the top-tier law schools are willing to take the risk that a postboycott drop in their ranking won’t hurt them and might actually help them with their more worldly constituencies.”