The US News College Rankings Aren’t Going Anywhere

The US News & World Report rankings aren’t going anywhere but the publication will have to change some of its ways.

It’s been an interesting week for US News & World Report, the publisher of the most widely read annual undergraduate and graduate university rankings. First, Harvard Law School and Yale Law School boldly chose to withdraw from the annual law school ranking by refusing to continue to report their data to the magazine. And where Harvard goes, the rest tend to follow. The likes of Stanford Law School, the UC Berkeley School of Law, Columbia Law School, the Georgetown University Law Center, the University of Michigan Law School, Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, the Duke University School of Law, and the UCLA School of Law soon followed on the heels of Harvard Law and Yale Law. And other top law schools will likely soon follow, joining the US News boycott. The University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School has announced that it will evaluate its continued participation in the rankings. But is this all much ado about nothing? Will US News continue to publish an annual law school ranking — drawing the data from the public domain rather than from the institutions themselves?

The Rankings Are a Moneymaker for US News

Absolutely! US News has no plans to cease publishing its annual law school ranking. Surely when Harvard Law and Yale Law announced their respective decisions, there was disquiet in the magazine’s offices (much like when Malcolm Gladwell releases a podcast about the publication’s ranking system!). After all, in a journalism landscape in which magazines are fighting ever so hard to stay relevant, where would US News & World Report be without its annual rankings? The fact is, US News is it ranking. And the ranking is US News. Sure, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications put out annual college rankings. But none have the salience of US News. None of these publications draw the ad dollars from their rankings that US News draws.

Some Hold Out Hope US News Will Cease Publishing Its Rankings

Yet there are some, including many academic administrators, who hold out hope that either US News will cease publishing its juggernaut ranking or that the ranking will lose its credibility and clout in the industry. We believe such a position to be rather naive. As but one example, Colin Diver articulates his steadfast hope that this law school boycott will mark the end of the US News rankings in an op-ed for The New York Times.

It seems that most schools live in terror of a decline in their ranking, and for good reason. Scholarly research consistently shows that a significant drop in one year’s rankings correlates with a weaker applicant pool the next year. As one college president once told me, ‘I hate the rankings, but unilateral disarmament is suicide.’ Yet, something tells me this time is different. It’s much harder to dismiss Harvard, Yale, and the other top-tier law schools than, say, Reed College or other onetime rankings holdouts such as St. John’s College. Those law schools sit at the peak of prestige, wealth and influence. Their actions are impossible to ignore.

– Colin Diver, “Are the U.S. News College Rankings Finally Going to Die?,” The New York Times

But Mr. Diver should know better. After all, he’s the former president of Reed College, a maverick school that previously refused to report its data to US News. The school slid tremendously in the subsequent rankings on account of their holdout. Similarly, Columbia University slid big time this year after getting caught with its hand in the cookie jar, scandalously misreporting data to the publication.

US News Will Not Cease Publishing Its Rankings But It Will Change Some of Its Ways

Yet, as Mr. Diver correctly argues, Harvard is not Reed. Yale is not Reed. None of these top-tier schools are Reed College. These top-ranked law schools moved like a cartel, refusing to continue to report their data. And thus US News will have to take notice and change their ways. They can’t penalize each of these law schools for refusing to report their data the way the publication penalized Columbia in this year’s undergraduate university rankings. Because if all of these top-tier law schools fall so dramatically, the rankings — and by extension US News — will lose significant credibility. So while US News can easily change their ranking to rely on data drawn from the public domain, the publication will have to end to cease taking punitive action against the schools that choose to withhold their numbers. Their vendettas will have to cease if the publication hopes to remain relevant — and we have no doubt US News will quickly accept this new reality.

YearColumbia University Ranking
2018 US News Ranking#5 (tie with Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
2019 US News Ranking#3 (tie with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Chicago, and Yale University)
2020 US News Ranking#3 (tie with Yale University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
2021 US News Ranking#3
2022 US News Ranking#2 (tie with Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
2023 US News Ranking#18 (tie with University of Notre Dame)

Have a question about the annual US News college rankings? Let us know your question by posting it below. And, while you’re here, check out US News2023 ranking for best national universities as well as its 2023 ranking for best liberal arts colleges.

 
 

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5 Comments

  • Jay Styer says:

    Many people feel Columbia was always way too high in the ranking and 18 might be too low- but its a lot closer to #18 that to #3. And US News rightly punishes a school for lying- who would disagree with that? But withholding information is no crime and US News will do the right thing by those schools- isn’t this like students not reporting test scores in their college applications?

    • Ivy Coach says:

      Hi Jay – All else being equal, students who submit great test scores will always have an advantage over students who do not submit test scores. Does that change your analysis? 😁

  • Stella says:

    Are you inferring that US News will punish schools for not reporting data by giving a lesser ranking? They may initially but after a year or two they probably won’t. It’s like you said in an earlier blog, if US News starts ranking too schools lower people will know and they will use credibility.

  • Stella says:

    Sorry, i meant US News will LOSE * credibility by showing obvious prejudice.

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