Yale Law School, the history and English departments of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and the University’s Masters of Fine Arts programs all topped the charts in U.S. News and World Report’s list of “America’s Best Graduate Schools,” released Friday.
The magazine also ranked the Yale School of Medicine eighth in terms of research and the School of Management 14th among business schools across the nation. Though University administrators said they were pleased that many programs received high marks, they said the list put out by U.S. News and World Report each year provides a flawed and inaccurate picture of the institution and should not be given much credence by current or prospective students.
Yale’s graduate programs were not among the top three in economics, psychology or any of the sciences — including physics, chemistry, biology, computer science and mathematics. The University was listed 37th overall for its engineering programs.
Law School Dean Harold Koh said the law school encourages people not to place a great deal of emphasis on the rankings because the rankings do not reflect the quality of the school. Still, he said, the Law School is pleased that it is again number one.
“We wish they didn’t have such rankings, but if they insist on having them, it’s nice that they recognize how nice our school is,” Koh said. “When you can’t measure what’s important, you make what you measure something important.”
The Law School has been given the top rank by the magazine every year since the rankings were first released in 1987. The gap in the overall score between Yale and the number two school — this year, Harvard — has increased since then.
Rankings of professional schools are based on expert assessments of the programs as well as a number of statistical indicators evaluating the institution’s faculty, research and students, according to U.S. News and World Report. The scores of doctoral programs — which were republished this year from data collected in 2005 — is based entirely on “the ratings of academic experts.” All such data is collected from deans, program directors and senior faculty members — and for professional programs, companies that hire recent graduates — who were asked to rate the academic quality of programs in their own fields on a scale of one, signifying “marginal,” to five, for “outstanding.”
Graduate School Dean Jon Butler said the rankings produced by the magazine each year, particularly the reputation-based rankings of graduate schools, are interesting, but for the most part do not provide useful information to universities or prospective applicants, . Rather than using rankings to evaluate its programs, he said, the University systematically brings in external committees to review specific departments.
“I think we’re always trying to improve the quality of our programs,” he said. “The rankings are so crude that they provide no information as to why a program is ranked [a certain way].”
School of Medicine Dean Robert Alpern said that while all medical school deans consider the rankings to be inaccurate, applicants do consider them when deciding what school to attend. For this reason, he said, the medical school still appreciates the fact that its ranking has risen from 11th to eighth over the past three years.
Alpern said the School of Medicine is often hurt in the rankings because it is a small school and will therefore always lag behind bigger institutions in, for example, the amount of funding it receives from the National Institute of Health — one of the pieces of information used to tabulate the rankings. In addition, he said, the quality of the education offered by a school is not assessed effectively, since faculty-to-student ratio is one of the only statistics used.
“The most important thing to do is to educate medical students, and that’s a difficult thing to quantify,” Alpern said. “A lot of it is just based on reputation for education. They rank Yale College very high just based on its reputation, but the problem is that reputation is so subjective that that’s not a good way to do it.”
History Department chair Paul Freedman said that while the department is gratified that it received the top spot, he agrees with the caveats voiced by Butler about the limitations of the magazine’s ranking system. Most prospective history graduate students choose the University because of interest in a particular area of history or with the help of undergraduate advisers, Freedman said, and while the rankings are important to students, minor fluctuations from year to year should not affect their opinions of an institution.
Butler said students should consider the strength of its faculty, financial aid, job placement and the long-term success of its graduates when evaluating an institution.