Last week, all the law schools in America were holding their collective breaths for the latest pronouncement by US News about how their school ranked. For law schools, as well as other graduate schools as well as universities, the US News rankings play an enormously influential role. The rankings affect the number and quality of applicants. Employers use the rankings too, and the rankings thus affect job opportunities. The careers of law school deans can rise and fall on the rankings too. Key decisions about legal education are made based on the potential affect on ranking, as are admissions decisions and financial aid decisions.
In the law school world, grumbling about the US News rankings never ceases. The rankings use a formula that takes into account a host of factors that are often not very relevant, that can easily be misreported, skewed, or gamed, and that ultimately say little of value about the quality or reputation of a school. Each year, I read fervent outcries to US News to improve their formula. These cries are deftly answered with a response that is typically a variant of the following: “We’ll look into this. We are always looking to improve our ranking formula.” Not much changes, though. The formula is tweaked a little bit, but the changes are never dramatic.
And yet each year, we keep grumbling, keep hoping that someday Godot will arrive and US News will create a truly rigorous ranking.
We should stop hoping.
It isn’t going to happen. This is because there is a fundamental problem at the heart of the US News rankings — doing a rigorous and more accurate ranking is at odds with the economic interest of US News, which is to make money by selling its rankings to eager buyers each year and getting people to visit their site.