(Reuters) – The U.S. Secretary of Education on Wednesday criticized annual higher education rankings published by U.S. News and World Report, saying they have “created an unhealthy obsession with selectivity.”
Secretary Miguel Cardona was speaking at a conference organized by the law schools at Harvard and Yale universities, amid a backlash over the magazine’s influential law school rankings.
“We need a culture change,” Cardona said, asserting that U.S. News’ emphasis on selectivity and exclusivity has helped steer underserved students to lower-tier institutions. “It’s time to stop worshipping at the false altar of U.S. News & World Report.”
Wednesday’s conference, held at Harvard Law School and focused on “best practices” involving law school data, follows a large-scale exodus of law schools that once participated in U.S. News’ rankings.
Beginning with Yale and Harvard in November, more than 40 law schools have vowed to stop providing internal data to U.S. News due to concerns that the rankings hurt student diversity and affordability. More than 50 have said they will continue to participate.
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U.S. News has said it will continue to rank all American Bar Association-accredited law schools but will rely solely on publicly available ABA data for the upcoming ranking, due this spring.
It has modified the rankings methodology to give more weight to schools’ employment and bar-pass rate, while decreasing the weight of reputational surveys. It is also eliminating several categories, including law schools’ expenditure-per-student.
In a open letter posted to its website Wednesday, U.S. News defended its rankings as a resource for aspiring lawyers to make informed decisions. It said it hoped Cardona would call on all schools to provide “open access to all of their undergraduate and graduate school data, using a common data set.”
Yale law dean Heather Gerken on Wednesday reiterated her view that the U.S. News rankings have damaged legal education.
“We can think about how to do better,” she said.
Many conference speakers cited U.S. News’ uniform approach to assessing law schools and said the rankings drive up tuition.
Christopher Norio Avery, a public policy professor at Harvard, said law schools and other organizations should carefully assess how to build alternative rankings.
“We’re at a very delicate moment where dramatically changing a system that isn’t working has exciting upside possibilities but may have a range of unintended consequences,” he said.
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