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Why Colleges Can’t Quit the U.S. News Rankings

Yale Law School initiated a movement last November when many top law and medical schools chose not to cooperate with the U.S. News & World Report rankings. These schools believed that the rankings were flawed and that schools should not be evaluated like consumer products. While critics hoped that undergraduate programs at these schools would also join the uprising, most colleges opted to continue submitting data for U.S. News’s annual undergraduate rankings. The continued participation of these schools highlights the significant influence that rankings hold in higher education. The rankings serve as an important tool for attracting prospective students, alumni, and donors. Administrators fear that defying the rankings could negatively impact their reputation. Despite the rebellion, U.S. News has vowed to continue ranking schools even if they choose not to participate. This, along with the belief that many schools would need to join forces to challenge U.S. News’s power, has led most schools to comply. The rankings remain a crucial resource for universities in the competitive landscape of higher education. The New York Times reached out to several schools, including Duke, Harvard, Penn State, Stanford, Yale, and UCLA, but most did not respond or declined to comment on their continued participation. Some administrators argue that the rankings are essential for attracting prospective students. Others believe that pulling out would have little impact since U.S. News has stated it will rank schools regardless. However, some administrators expected more schools to join the rebellion, indicating that the rankings are deeply entrenched in the higher education system. Schools that lack the prestige of top-tier institutions rely heavily on rankings for marketing purposes. U.S. News uses different methodologies for undergraduate programs and professional schools, leading to various grievances among deans. U.S. News recently announced changes to its methodology for undergraduate rankings, placing a greater emphasis on social mobility and outcomes for graduating students. Despite complaints that the rankings are influenced by biases and rivalries, U.S. News defended its approach as a consumer service aimed at helping students make informed decisions. Although some students consider rankings when researching potential colleges, they often make final enrollment decisions based on other factors. The threat of schools abandoning rankings remains, with UC Berkeley leaving open the possibility of future changes. For now, Berkeley continues to use its ranking as part of its marketing strategy.