Thursday, 1 Jun 2023

U.S. News Releases Its Latest, Disputed Rankings of Law and Medical Schools

The latest: The 2023-24 rankings are out.

U.S. News & World Report finally released its annual rankings of top law and medical schools on Thursday, after boycotts by those institutions, disputes over methodology, and a delay of weeks.

A few law schools shuffled positions, but the ones at the top of the new list were familiar — Stanford, Yale, Chicago, Duke, Harvard and New York University.

Yale, which was the first to boycott, retained its No. 1 position, though in a tie this year with Stanford. Columbia, which also participated in the boycott, dropped to eighth place from fourth.

There were some big shifts among the lower ranks, as a result of a new methodology. Wake Forest in North Carolina jumped 15 spots to be tied at No. 22, from No. 37 last year. Marquette University in Milwaukee climbed to No. 34, tied with Texas Tech, from No. 71 before.

Among medical schools, most that were in the top 10 list for research last year remained there in 2023-24.

The top three medical schools are Harvard, Johns Hopkins and the University of Pennsylvania. Joining the top ten: Vanderbilt, Weill Cornell and Washington University in St. Louis.

New York University dropped to No. 10 from No. 2 last year.

Background: Many top schools have boycotted U.S. News.

After criticizing U.S. News’s rankings for years, many elite law and medical schools decided to boycott the 2023-24 rankings by refusing to hand over data, saying that the rankings were unreliable and unfair, skewing education priorities.

Yale Law School said that the U.S. News methodology did not give enough weight to programs “that support public interest careers, champion need-based aid, and welcome working-class students into the profession.” As a result, Yale argued, the rankings effectively penalized law schools that emphasize that work, and deterred others from focusing on that work.

Faced with several dozen schools declining to participate, U.S. News went on a listening tour last year to develop a new methodology. For law schools, fully 58 percent of a school’s ranking is now based on outcomes — how many graduating students pass the bar and get jobs — a substantial increase from prior years.

The new ranking of medical schools for research also used new methodology, and included an evaluation of faculty resources, the academic achievements of entering students and research productivity.

U.S. News said that for the law and medical schools that declined to provide data, it filled in the blanks using publicly available information.

Despite the overhaul, an early preview of the 2023-24 rankings, released on April 21, ran into another wave of criticism, prompting a delay in the release of the final list.

Why it matters: The rankings are influential for both students and employers.

Many organizations rank colleges and universities, but the U.S. News rankings are probably the most widely followed. Students across the country use the rankings to help them choose schools, and employers consider the rankings when they hire graduates.

Those factors make the rankings especially important for many lesser-known schools. They invest time and money in improving their showing on the metrics that U.S. News values — for instance, admissions test scores, faculty-to-student ratios, class sizes and post-graduation employment.

What’s next: The new rankings are unlikely to placate critics.

With some schools experiencing turbulent swings in their ratings from year to year, critics have questioned whether the U.S. News list has any real meaning.

In a message posted on his school’s website, Stephen C. Payne, dean of the Columbus School of Law at Catholic University of America, said the new methodology penalized his school — which fell to No. 122 from No. 94 — partly by giving more weight to the number of graduates who pass the bar examination in their first try.

“The dramatic changes in the calculations of this year’s rankings have produced some wild swing and strange results,” Mr. Payne wrote, adding that “the specific spot of a given school in the rankings seems to provide little useful information to prospective students.”

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