This week, Bard College in upstate New York became the latest institution to announce that it will drop out of the U.S. News & World Report annual ranking system. The announcement follows on the heels of several other institutions, like the Rhode Island School of Design, as well as many top medical and law schools, including Yale Law School, Harvard Law and Medical Schools, and the Stanford University School of Medicine, who have left the ranking over the past few months. According to a recent article in USA Today, “More than a dozen medical schools and more than 40 law schools… have said they will no longer provide information to the outlet” for its rankings of colleges.”
President of Bard College, Leon Botstein, criticized the U.S. News rankings in a statement published to Bard’s website. “‘The educational character and comparative merits of colleges cannot be distilled into a uniform numerical ranking,’ says President Botstein. ‘Particularly one that does not take into account the curriculum and faculty and is based on flawed and irrelevant metrics, many of which concern only institutional wealth.’” According to President Botstein, momentum is continuing to build for other universities to leave the rankings.
Despite these critiques from President Botstein and other prominent university leaders, like Lloyd B. Minor, the Dean of Stanford School of Medicine, U.S. News & World Report had said little in response to this movement until recently, according to Anemona Hartocollis in The New York Times. However, in the last month, Eric J. Gertler, the executive chairman and chief executive of U.S. News, strongly defended the rankings in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, titled “Why Elite Law and Medical Schools Can’t Stand U.S. News”, as well as in an open letter posted on the U.S. News website.
In the op-ed, Gertler accused law schools of pulling out of the rankings in a possible effort to sidestep a potential Supreme Court ruling that may restrict affirmative action. “Some law deans are already exploring ways to sidestep any restrictive ruling by reducing their emphasis on test scores and grades — criteria used in our rankings,” wrote Gertler. In the open letter, he further argued that the rankings provide a transparent and valuable dataset to students:
“Our rankings help aspiring students as they take their first step in ensuring their career opportunities, earning potential and quality of life. This is especially important in today’s environment where the admissions process has become increasingly competitive, less transparent and more time consuming. As tuition continues to skyrocket, students require reliable information to guide them in their decision-making process.”
Despite Gertler’s defense, U.S. News has made some changes to the ranking system in response to criticism from universities this year. Ruth Graham, writing in The New York Times, reported that U.S. News made changes to better value law students going into public service jobs or pursuing advanced degrees, responding to criticism that their rankings overvalued private sector jobs, and would no longer consider spending per student as a factor, which favored wealthier schools. However, despite the changes, Bard College’s exit indicates skepticism with U.S. News rankings continues to grow in higher ed.