U.S. News Releases Law and Medical School Rankings After Delays, Controversy

The U.S. News rankings train chugs merrily along, with or without its most esteemed passengers.
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Mark J. Drozdowski, Ed.D.
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Mark J. Drozdowski, Ed.D., is a senior writer with BestColleges. He has 30 years of experience in higher education as a university administrator and faculty member and teaches writing at Johns Hopkins University. A former columnist for The Chronicle ...
Published on May 19, 2023
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Alex Pasquariellois a senior news editor for BestColleges. Prior to joining BestColleges he led Metropolitan State University of Denver's digital journalism initiative. He holds a BS in journalism from Northwestern University....
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  • U.S. News & World Report has released its final rankings for law and medical schools following pushback from universities.
  • The new rankings formulas de-emphasize reputational surveys in favor of outcome measures.
  • Except for some movement among top schools, the results remained essentially the same.

One month after teasing its new law and medical school rankings and withdrawing them, U.S. News & World Report has issued the final versions for 2023-2024.

Although the magic formulas changed somewhat, the positions of top universities largely did not. And that shouldn't come as a surprise.

U.S. News Rankings Pulled Amid Complaints

In mid-April, U.S. News previewed its law and medical school rankings, promising to publish the final versions a week later. But following an "unprecedented number of inquiries" from university leaders during the embargo period, the magazine announced it would delay releasing final rankings by one week. Meanwhile, it removed the preliminary rankings from its website.

On April 25, the 2023-2024 graduate school rankings did indeed come out, minus law and medical schools.

"The level of interest in our rankings, including from those schools that declined to participate in our survey," U.S. News wrote on its website, "has been beyond anything we have experienced in the past."

Law school officials took issue with how the publication's methodology considered employment rates, not counting students on fellowships as employed. Yale protested after its ranking dropped despite the inclusion of fellowships. Similarly, the University of California, Berkeley complained that students in its joint law and Ph.D. program were being counted as unemployed.

Last year, Yale Law led a boycott of U.S. News, refusing to cooperate with the magazine's data collection. Harvard soon followed suit and was joined in rapid succession by Stanford, Penn, Columbia, Michigan, Duke, and several other law schools U.S. News regularly ranks among its top 20.

Law school officials claimed the rankings incentivize them to recruit students with high standardized test scores, students who often can afford expensive test prep courses. As a result, incoming classes aren't as socioeconomically diverse as they could be.

Rankings also discourage public service careers and disregard loan forgiveness programs when calculating student debt loads.

Shortly after the law schools organized their boycott, leading medical schools, including Harvard, Columbia, Chicago, Johns Hopkins, Penn, and Stanford — all highly ranked by U.S. News — followed a similar path by refusing to participate in the magazine's data collection.

All told, 62 law schools and 17 medical schools didn't submit data to the magazine this year.

Like law schools, medical schools cited problems with the magazine's misguided assumptions related to admissions criteria and career choices. Nonetheless, U.S. News said it remained "committed to collecting more data on the metrics that matter most to students" for its future rankings.

"We know how difficult it is to be a student searching for comparable information, and we will continue to incorporate data that medical schools reported directly to U.S. News over the past two years on the U.S. News' rankings and school profile pages, including indicators not used in the ordinal rankings and other critical information," the publication said.

New Rankings De-Emphasize Peer Reputational Surveys

For the 2023-2024 law and medical school rankings, U.S. News tinkered with its formulas, using publicly available information to complement data submitted by schools. In both cases, the magazine de-emphasized reputational rankings based on surveys submitted by universities.

That's not entirely surprising given that the boycotts included a refusal to complete and submit surveys, a move that simply accelerated a trend in that direction. Once hovering around the 60% mark, survey completion among universities has dropped to about 33% overall.

For its law school rankings, U.S. News essentially cut the peer assessment score in half, dropping it from .25 — a quarter of the total numerical rating — to .125. (In U.S. News' calculus, the sum total of scores equals 1, not 100.)

It also reduced the lawyers and judges assessment score from .15 to .125. Taken together, these qualitative measures now account for 25% of the overall assessment, down from 40%.

At the same time, the magazine de-emphasized standardized test scores and median grade point average while maintaining the score for admissions selectivity at .01.

What measures increased? Those for faculty and library resources, bar passage rates, and graduate employment.

Similarly, the magazine reduced the reputational score for medical schools from 30% to 25%. Peer assessment now accounts for .125 instead of .15. It also lowered percentages for selectivity, Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) scores, and student GPAs while placing more emphasis on graduates practicing in primary care specialties.

"It is vital for law and medical students to be equipped with the skills and experiences necessary to flourish in this ever-changing and complex world," Eric Gertler, U.S. News executive chair and CEO, said in a statement. "By focusing on metrics that measure outcomes, our rankings and resources can provide a roadmap for the first step in those students' journeys — their education."

Revised Rankings Lead to Minor Changes Among Top Schools

Changes to these formulas resulted in some maneuvering among top schools, but not much.

Among law schools, the top 15 remained the same, though the order changed somewhat. Stanford joined Yale atop the list, followed by the University of Chicago. The University of Pennsylvania leapfrogged Harvard for fourth place, with Harvard now tied for fifth with New York University and Duke, which jumped up from seventh and 11th place, respectively.

Of those schools, only Chicago participated in the rankings.

All law schools whose rankings changed by more than 20 spots were outside the top 15. Florida International University Law School, for example, catapulted almost 40 rungs, landing at No. 60.

Among research-based medical schools, the deck was shuffled a bit. Harvard remained at the top, followed by Johns Hopkins and Penn, which last year ranked sixth. Washington University, last year's No. 11, climbed into a five-way tie at No. 5.

Clustering the "top" schools at the top is no accident. The rankings are intentionally designed to feature the marquee names in prominent positions to lend credibility to the enterprise. In the past, U.S. News editors have "pretested the change in weights to make sure that it would not produce an upheaval," Alvin Sanoff, a former editor, wrote in 2007.

So the leading law and medical schools that opted out of the rankings business largely retained their lofty positions within the U.S. News pecking order. With or without their participation, the magazine seems intent on preserving the status quo.