- Harvard Medical School will no longer send data for U.S. News & World Report’s influential rankings, its dean announced Tuesday, saying the prestige-focused exercise creates “perverse incentives” for institutions to lie or misrepresent their programs.
- The rankings cause colleges to set policies that divert from nobler purposes and instead focus on climbing the ladder, George Daley, dean of the faculty of medicine, wrote in a public letter. He also wrote U.S. News' rankings criteria incentivizes institutions to reroute financial aid from needy students to those who score high on tests.
- Daley wrote he has mulled withdrawing from the rankings since he took his position at the medical school six years ago. But only recently did “courageous and bold” moves by law schools rejecting the rankings compel him to act.
US. News’ rankings have long come under fire for too heavily shaping institutional decision making.
Its metrics are also too easily gamed, critics say. They often point to the survey that officials fill out about their peer institutions’ reputations for the magazine’s Best Colleges undergraduate rankings.
But a new revolt is brewing against the rankings, started by a contingent of law schools.
In November, Harvard’s and Yale’s law schools announced they would no longer comply with the Best Law Schools rankings, arguing they punish institutions that prioritize placing students into public interest careers.
Citing similar reasoning to Harvard and Yale, more than a dozen law schools followed suit. Now most of those in the top 15 spots on U.S. News’ list are no longer participating. Even some low-placing schools joined the exodus, despite pundits saying less prominent institutions had more to lose by doing so.
U.S. News said it would continue its journalistic mission to rank law schools regardless of whether they cooperate. Much of the data used to order the law schools is available publicly through the American Bar Association.
However, the publication said this month it would rework its rankings formula to appease the law schools, which thus far has not proven successful.
Daley wrote in his missive he has heard philosophical criticism of the rankings, that they “cannot meaningfully reflect the high aspirations for educational excellence, graduate preparedness, and compassionate and equitable patient care that we strive to foster in our medical education programs.”
Eric Gertler, CEO and executive chair of U.S. News, in an emailed statement Tuesday acknowledged there are challenges with comparing diverse academic institutions across a common data set.
“That is why we have consistently stated that the rankings should be one component in a prospective student’s decision-making process,” Gertler said. “The fact is, millions of prospective students annually visit U.S. News medical school rankings because we provide students with valuable data and solutions to help with that process.”
The law schools’ rejection of rankings has raised questions of whether it would affect the undergraduate version, long considered U.S. News’ bread-and-butter product. The rebellion has yet to extend to the undergraduate iteration, though experts say colleges have little incentive to turn away from the rankings so far ahead of when the magazine typically publishes them in September.
A Harvard spokesperson said the university has “nothing to share” about whether it would continue to submit undergraduate rankings data.
Harvard Medical School will publish key metrics on its admissions website, Daley wrote in his letter. Daley wrote the public could compare Harvard’s data to other medical schools’ on the Association of American Medical Colleges’ website.
Harvard is the No. 1 medical school for research, followed by New York University. Columbia University, Johns Hopkins University and the University of California, San Francisco are tied for third.
A spokesperson for Johns Hopkins Medicine said in an email Tuesday that rankings do not capture the many factors that differentiate each medical school. Johns Hopkins has concerns about the rankings’ effects on student decisions, the spokesperson said. For now though, it will continue to send data to U.S. News but will consider whether to participate in the future, as it does every year, the spokesperson said.
None of the other medical schools in the No. 2 or No. 3 spots responded to a request for comment Tuesday.
U.S. News also constructs a list of best medical schools for primary care, topped by the University of Washington, then UC San Francisco and the University of Minnesota.
In November, two former high-ranking administrators at the University of Chicago’s medical school urged other medical schools to dump the rankings.
The duo wrote in an essay on medical news website Stat that U.S. News bases its medical school rankings on factors that “fail to describe or measure any outcome of importance related to the quality of education provided by medical schools.”
The rankings “do little more than reaffirm prestige and the financial prosperity of schools, promoting a cycle by which the wealthiest schools seek those students with the most privilege and wealth and vice versa, exacerbating disparities and creating competition that does nothing to advance the health of the public or the education of future physicians,” they wrote.
They also mentioned how the rankings have been hit with accusations of data inaccuracy.
Daley in his letter also referenced such a case, linking to a news report about Columbia University falling in the undergraduate rankings after mathematics professor Michael Thaddeus last year found evidence the Ivy League institution fudged data it provided to U.S. News.
Columbia said it wouldn’t participate in the rankings while it investigated the matter, but U.S. News still listed it as No. 18, down from the No. 2 spot. Lawsuits also stemmed from the scandal.
The University of Southern California also last year dropped out of the graduate school rankings for its Rossier School of Education amid revelations its dean gave incorrect information. And a former Temple University business school dean in 2022 was sentenced to 14 months in prison and fined $250,000 after being found guilty of similarly falsifying data.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with statements from U.S. News & World Report and Johns Hopkins University.