Dear Members of the Harvard Law School Community,
I write today to share with you that Harvard Law School will no longer participate in the U.S. News & World Report rankings, effective this year. (Yale Law School announced a similar decision earlier today). We at HLS have made this decision because it has become impossible to reconcile our principles and commitments with the methodology and incentives the U.S. News rankings reflect. This decision was not made lightly and only after considerable deliberation over the past several months.
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. 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.
Over several years now, a number of schools – including Harvard Law School – have brought to the attention of U.S. News, either directly or through the U.S. News Law Deans Advisory Board, the concerns that have motivated us to end our participation in the U.S. News process. In particular, we have raised concerns about aspects of the U.S. News ranking methodology (also highlighted by our colleagues at Yale) that work against law schools’ commitments to enhancing the socioeconomic diversity of our classes; to allocating financial aid to students based on need; and, through loan repayment and public interest fellowships, to supporting graduates interested in careers serving the public interest.
First, the debt metric adopted by U.S. News two years ago risks confusing more than it informs because a school may lower debt at graduation through generous financial aid, but it may also achieve the same effect by admitting more students who have the resources to avoid borrowing. The debt metric gives prospective students no way to tell which is which. 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.
Second, by heavily weighting students’ test scores and college grades, the U.S. News rankings have over the years created incentives for law schools to direct more financial aid toward applicants based on their LSAT scores and college GPAs without regard to their financial need. 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.
Third, the U.S. News methodology undermines the efforts of many law schools to support public interest careers for their graduates. We share, and have expressed to U.S. News, the concern that their debt metric ignores school-funded loan forgiveness programs in calculating student debt. Such loan forgiveness programs assist students who pursue lower paying jobs, typically in the public interest sector. We have joined other schools in also sharing with U.S. News our concern about the magazine’s decision to discount, in the employment ranking, professional positions held by those who receive public interest fellowships funded by their home schools. These jobs not only provide lawyers to organizations for critical needs, they also often launch a graduate’s career in the public sector.
For these and other reasons, we will no longer participate in the U.S. News process. 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.