The pros and cons of college rankings: 2 perspectives

Medical and law schools are withdrawing from U.S. News and World Report's popular ranking system, inspiring discourse around the lists' purpose — and relevance. 

In a Feb. 1 opinion piece, the Los Angeles Times' editorial board called it a "welcome revolt" against a "flawed system." Last year, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, EdD, called the rankings a "joke" as they encourage schools to fabricate data, the editors reported. 

For example, the University of Southern California in Los Angeles withdrew its education school from the 2023 rankings after finding two deans omitted data to reach a higher standing. The former dean of Philadelphia-based Temple University's business school is serving prison time for sending false information to U.S. News. And a senior admissions official resigned from Claremont (Calif.) McKenna College in 2012 after submitting fake SAT scores. 

The rankings also punish schools for public service, according to the editors. U.S. News classifies New Haven, Conn.-based Yale Law School graduates as "unemployed" if they have a paid public service fellowship from the university. Graduates pursuing a higher degree are also marked as unemployed. 

The editors also noted that criticism of the rankings' methodologies, including the lack of diversity measures, is not new. "A well-documented and comprehensive study published in the journal Academic Science in October 2001 suggested that metrics to measure medical schools should include a school's commitment to public service, students' racial and ethnic diversity, and graduates' performance on board exams," they wrote. 

However, some believe the rankings are still relevant. Kenneth Terrell, the former managing editor of U.S. News responsible for publishing its education rankings, argued this point in a piece for Princeton Alumni Weekly

Mr. Terrell called the rankings an "important, if imperfect, tool for students and families." 

Choosing a college can be a $200,000 or more decision, Mr. Terrell said. The rankings aim to provide as much information, compiled in one convenient location, to help students and families make an informed choice. If schools report their own data, it will be harder for people to find and compare institutions accurately. 

Schools should commit to meaningful change instead of merely announcing their withdrawal from the rankings, Mr. Terrell said, as U.S. News will likely carry on with them regardless. If schools want their valid concerns addressed, they should play a role by dropping test scores from their own admission requirements, giving lower-income students financial support up front rather than loan forgiveness, and strengthening diverse recruiting pipelines. 

"What I can say more immediately is that based on my experience as editor of the U.S. News education rankings is that the most likely effect of these withdrawal announcements is a significant boost in viewers of the next year's law school rankings," Mr. Terrell wrote. "The debate on ending the rankings ultimately only serves to keep people talking about them."

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