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Harvard Law School will stop participating in the U.S. News & World Report’s annual rankings, the school announced Wednesday.
The school’s announcement on Wednesday came just hours after Yale Law School also said it would stop participating in the rankings, which have come under increased scrutiny in recent months amid questions about the methodology U.S. News uses.
Harvard Law School Dean John F. Manning ’82 wrote in an email to HLS affiliates that it has “become impossible to reconcile our principles and commitments with the methodology and incentives the U.S. News rankings reflect.”
“Done well, such rankings could convey accurate, relevant information about universities, colleges, and graduate and professional schools that may help students and families make informed choices about which schools best meet their needs,” Manning wrote. “However, rankings can also emphasize characteristics that potentially mislead those who rely on them and can create perverse incentives that influence schools’ decisions in ways that undercut student choice and harm the interests of potential students.”
Harvard fell to No. 4 in the most recent U.S. News rankings, behind Yale, Stanford, and the University of Chicago.
Manning wrote that multiple law schools, including HLS, have brought their concerns before U.S. News and the U.S. News Law Deans Advisory Board for several years.
He criticized a metric added by U.S. News two years ago that measures student debt at graduation. Manning argued that potential applicants are unable to distinguish whether this metric reflects a school’s generous financial aid or a high percentage of wealthy admits who do not require student loans.
“And to the extent the debt metric creates an incentive for schools to admit better resourced students who don’t need to borrow, it risks harming those it is trying to help,” Manning wrote.
In an email to The Crimson, Madeline Smanik, a spokesperson for U.S. News, wrote that the rankings factor in debt metrics to “support students in their decision about where to attend law schools that are not in a position to offer extensive financial aid.” Smanik added that U.S. News is working with law school deans to refine its use of debt metrics.
Because the debt metric does not consider loan forgiveness programs, Manning wrote in his email, it conveys misleading information to students interested in public service, who would qualify for post-graduate aid.
He added that the rankings’ emphasis on test scores and college grades has incentivized law schools to prioritize academic performance over need when distributing financial aid. The Law School does not offer merit scholarships, unlike several of its peer institutions, including Columbia and the University of Chicago.
“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,” he wrote.
Smanik, the U.S. News spokesperson, wrote that the organization is looking for ways to incorporate loan forgiveness into its rankings.
“Harvard is in a position to fund students who opt to pursue public interest and scholarly careers. This is laudable,” Smanik’s email reads. “However, the majority of students are looking for jobs in the open market and the U.S. News rankings are focused on helping them make a very important career and financial decision.”
She also stated that while standardized tests do not fully capture an applicant’s merits, the American Bar Association and most law schools still require LSAT scores.
Manning acknowledged school rankings — when “done well” — can help students make informed decisions while selecting a university or professional school. But he wrote that the methodology and rankings used by U.S. News compromise student choice and harm the interests of applicants.
“For these and other reasons, we will no longer participate in the U.S. News process,” Manning wrote. “It does not advance the best ideals of legal education or the profession we serve, and it contradicts the deeply held commitments of Harvard Law School.”
—Staff writer Ryan H. Doan-Nguyen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ryandoannguyen.
— Staff writer John N. Peña can be reached at email@example.com.
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