Admissions officers question rankings

Yale Law School is still No. 1 according to this year’s U.S. News and World Report rankings, released March 15, but the fairness of the assessment — and of such ratings in general — has been called into question.

Law school applicants value school ranking more than any other factor, said Jeff Olson, vice president of research for the Law School Admissions Test-preparation company Kaplan Test Prep. But 80 percent of the law school admissions officers Kaplan surveyed said they found last week’s report unfair because rankings cannot take every aspect of a program into account.

Bob Morse, director of data research for U.S. News and World Report, said he could understand that admissions officers dislike the rankings because they do not capture every component of every program, but he maintained that the rankings are fundamentally fair.

“U.S. News is not doing law school rankings to please law school admissions deans, we’re doing them for law school applicants,” he said. “The schools are being compared under the same factors and being judged under the same methodology.”

Andrew Perrin, a member of a committee of sociologists that released a report criticizing the National Research Council rankings of graduate programs and a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said he believes rankings have value.

“Reputations actually contain important information because experts know the programs,” he said.

Perrin added that he prefers ranking systems that ask professors to assess programs, since they are often knowledgeable about the way different schools compare.

But Charlotte Kuh GRD ’76, deputy executive director of the Policy and Global Affairs Division at the National Research Council, said this reliance on subjective ratings from scholars makes the U.S. News and World Report rankings deeply flawed. Such studies, she said, suffer from the “halo effect,” meaning that the ratings of programs often correspond to the reputation of the university where they are based. For example, she said Princeton Law School often receives high scores on surveys ­— even though Princeton does not have a law school.

Although Morse acknowledged that rankings are not be a perfect measure of a school’s worth, for School of Management Dean Sharon Oster, they are still an important assessment of where a school stands. In a March 15 statement on the SOM website, Oster wrote that although no survey can completely capture the value of the educational experience a school offers, she takes the results of each ranking “very seriously.”

“Our foremost objective is to understand what information that survey reveals about the perceptions and experiences of our key stakeholders,” she wrote. “We then integrate this information with that from many other sources in support of our mission of educating leaders for business and society.”

Yale SOM jumped from 11th to 10th in the ranking for best business school. The business school ranking is based on factors such as students’ grade-point averages, Graduate Management Admission Test scores and salaries after graduation.

Two law school students interviewed said that their school’s rank was only one of many factors they considered when applying to and accepting law school offers.

“If you’re deciding between schools one, two and three, or nine, 10 and 11, then rankings probably aren’t all that significant,” said Patrick Moroney LAW ’12 in an email to the News Tuesday. “Especially when you look at the methodology and realize how sensitive the rankings are to emphasizing one measure just a little bit more or less. But I’d be shocked to hear of someone deciding where to apply without ever having at least glanced at the rankings.”

Yale Law has retained its No. 1 spot on the U.S. News and World Report rankings for two decades.

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