December 8, 2023

The CEO and executive chairman of US News & World Report passionately defended the magazine’s rankings last week, arguing that prominent colleges that ignore them “don’t want to be held accountable by an independent third party.”

Eric Gertler letter in The Wall Street Journal escalating a three-month-old ratings dispute as dozens of law and medical schools withdrew, accusing US News of valuing prestige over academic quality. The U.S. Secretary of Education also recently spoke out against the rankings, prompting the release go on the defensive.

Gertler wrote in the Journal last week that the US News rankings are one of the few sources where students can find “accurate and comprehensive information” about colleges.

The rankings don’t capture all the nuances of colleges, he wrote, and comparing institutions across common datasets can be challenging. But he rejected criticism that the rankings contribute to a decline in campus diversity or lack of transparency in college admissions, as some opponents have suggested.

Instead, Gertler suggested that some law school deans are trying to sidestep the impact of an expected U.S. Supreme Court ruling that would limit admissions based on race by “reducing the emphasis on test scores and grades — the criteria used in our rankings.”

“By refusing to participate, elite schools are opting out of an important discussion about what constitutes the best education for students while suggesting that excellence and important goals like diversity are mutually exclusive,” Gertler wrote.

Gertler’s essay represents one of the magazine’s most comprehensive responses to the charts boycott since the wave began in November.

Yale and Harvard Law schools were the first to withdraw from the rankings that month, saying the system penalizes institutions that want to prioritize placing students in public service careers. Waves of other law schools followed, citing similar considerations, and now most of the programs in the top 15 of the US News list do not participate.

Harvard Medical School became the first in that discipline to turn away from the rankings in January, prompting rounds of other medical schools to do the same.

US News said it will continue to rate law schools using publicly available information provided by the American Bar Association. That too rewrote the formula used to rate law schools, so it relies less on a survey that academics, lawyers and judges fill out about their perceptions of the institutions. No law schools said the adjustments would cause them to return to the rankings.

Recently, two institutions – Rhode Island School of Design and Colorado Collegerejected US News’ Best Colleges ranking of college students, a product of the bread-and-butter publication. Both colleges said the assessment reinforces inequalities.

The growing movement against the rankings has prompted speculation that colleges will abandon them altogether.

Education Minister Miguel Cardona essentially called for this at a conference organized by Harvard and Yale Law Schools this month. He he said at the event that institutions should “stop worshiping at the false altar of US News and World Report.”

The rankings discourage the wealthiest institutions from enrolling and graduating less disadvantaged students, Cardona said at the event. That’s because it hurts their selectivity factor in the US News formula.

Cardona said the higher education agenda should be set by colleges, “not some for-profit magazine.”

“Tell them to admit more students of color, admit more Pell Grant recipients,” Cardona said. “Admit them. Enroll them. Support them. And propel them toward graduation day and rewarding careers.”

US News immediately issued a reply Cardona and in an open letter should direct universities to be more transparent with their data. The magazine noted a particular lack of public information regarding graduate schools.

More openness from colleges would allow prospective students and their families “to make meaningful comparisons between institutions based on factors such as financial information, admissions data and achievement statistics,” US News wrote.

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