| Jan 18, 2023

Yale Leads Way to Dismantling Inequitable College Ranking System

Instead of continuing to benefit from the privileges that a name allows, the prestigious law school is creating an environment that truly serves the student.

Most parents who have helped their son or daughter apply to college recently, or find their own higher education institution, have probably heard of the U.S. News and World Report college ranking system. Founded in 1983, the official ranking claims to help prospective students make a choice on which national university, liberal arts college, online university or other higher-ed institution is best for them. But Yale is calling its bluff. 

In mid-November 2022, Yale Law School dean Heather K. Gerken announced that the school would be leaving the college ranking system, detailing ways the system itself is discriminatory and does not actually solicit statistics from colleges that assist prospective students or which can be verified. Yale’s move to drop out of the college ranking system and no longer submit stats to U.S. News commits to a better way of researching colleges moving forward. 

Will it pay off for Yale and the other schools following suit? 

Moving Towards Accurate Stats

U.S. News is perceived as the most trusted source nationally for understanding what colleges offer, but there is no independent monitoring of stats submitted. Columbia University made news in 2022 when it submitted exaggerated statistics and won the coveted number two spot in the college ranking. Dr. Matthew Thaddeus, a Columbia University math professor, questioned his own university’s published stats and found major discrepancies. 

While the U.S. News ranking claimed that 100% of Columbia’s faculty had “terminal degrees,” or the highest degrees possible in their fields, Dr. Thaddeus discovered that only 66 people out of 958 had terminal degrees. The U.S. News ranking reported that Columbia’s budget was $3.1 billion annually, but Dr. Thaddeus was skeptical — $3.1 billion is more than Harvard, Yale and Princeton combined. Columbia also seems to have exaggerated its student-to-teacher ratio and class size. 

Yale Law School dean of admissions, Jeffrey Brenzel, came right out and laid bare the problems with the rankings system: It profits off the anxiety that prospective students and families have related to college admissions. “Their [college rankings] main flaw is obvious but worth stating: The more or less arbitrary factors that go into the ranking calculations often have little to do with what will be important to your educational experience.”


The U.S. News yearly report solicits stats from schools that focus on alumni giving rates, median SAT scores of accepted students, how selective the admissions process is, and the job placement rates upon graduation. But these do not play greatly into a student’s experience. 

Admissions selectivity only shows that the school accepts smart students. It does not speak to the education an institution offers. Most importantly, a student’s experience depends on what they make of their time in college more than any rankings. Leaders at Yale hope that students and their families will rely less on ranking systems and research more fully which school would be the best fit for each student. 

Creating a Generation of Changemakers

Yale’s public statements speak at length about how the ranking system goes against the school’s mission and sense of equity. The college ranking system also leaves out important statistics and this omission causes discrimination against students in lower-income brackets. U.S. News college rankings exclude information on need-based aid. They do, however, put weight on how much debt students leave college with. Schools are then incentivized to accept students who will take fewer loans in order to jump ahead in the college ranking. 

Students who wish to pursue public interest careers that make less money are shown in rankings to have vast debt because the college rankings do not take into consideration loan forgiveness programs or accurately count philanthropic careers.

The ranking system also puts value on test scores, which keeps out students who do not have opportunities to spend money on expensive test preparation. Financial aid then goes to students with good test scores rather than those with the greatest need. 

The move away from the ranking system signals that Yale will focus on cultivating an environment that truly serves the student and that creates leaders who care about philanthropic work. Instead of admitting and giving financial aid to students who will make Yale look good by the standards of U.S. News, Yale hopes to admit and fund students who will be just changemakers in the U.S. legal system. 

The Yale Name

Yale isn’t the only big-name law school to leave college rankings behind. Stanford, Georgetown, Columbia, Harvard, and Berkeley have followed suit. Dean of Georgetown’s law school, William M Treanor, stated that Georgetown wanted to train lawyers to work for justice and protect the rights of vulnerable people. 

Potential employers who see the names of these prestigious schools on a resume likely make assumptions based on alma mater alone. A Yale or Georgetown graduate is more likely to get a job with a higher paying salary or a highly sought-after internship with the Supreme Court. With or without rankings, these universities will still be “ranked” high in the collective minds of a nation. 

While smaller and lower-ranked universities are applauding the moves of these schools, they have also reported that they cannot afford to step out of the ranking system. The higher a school’s ranking, the more “free marketing” the school may receive, thus ensuring it receives quality applicants. With big-name schools now ranked lower because they have refused to participate in updating their stats with U.S. News, smaller schools will rise the ranks and become more prestigious themselves. This isn’t something to take lightly for most colleges in the United States.

Reed College pulled out of the college ranking system in 1995, and ended up dropping from the top quarter of schools to the bottom quarter. Reed College has recovered and remains an excellent educational institution which focuses less on wealth, prestige and privilege, and more on growing leaders. But that doesn’t mean that times weren’t immediately rocky after refusing to participate in college rankings.

Schools now may be facing lawsuits from students who believe they were misled into choosing a college based on rankings that have now been shown to be inaccurate. 

Paving the Way to Progress

While it is unclear how ditching the ranking system will affect Yale in the future, the law school can probably weather any hit that comes its way. The Yale name continues to hold power, as do the names Harvard, Columbia, Georgetown, Berkeley, and Stanford. But instead of continuing to benefit from the privileges that a name allows, these schools have begun dismantling an inequitable system that could create ways for smaller schools to eventually follow suit without immense blowback. Yale is paving the way to progress in a way that invites everyone to examine their own privilege and do work in their own arena that perhaps they alone can do. Yale invites us to see ways that we, too, may work for equity in our own places despite the risk.

Ellie VerGowe
Ellie VerGowe

Opinion Contributor,

Ellie is a writer and spiritual care provider in Seattle, WA who enjoys hiking, making music, and hearing good stories. view profile


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