Monday, May 12, 2008

Are Journalists More Alert to the Problems with the US News Ranking Than in the Past

A colleague elsewhere writes:

I've been meaning to write to thank you for taking on the US News methodology.  I think your work has greatly reduced the annual angst over US News this year.  US News will likely continue to produce short-tem thinking and reaction by law schools, but this year it seems to me that there has been much less knee-jerk reaction than in years past.  Most of that credit is due to you.  Even our local reporter was less hysterical over US News this year and he cited your blog for the proposition that there are methodological flaws with US News.

I am curious whether others have the perception that their local journalists are better-informed about the limitations of U.S. News and the meaninglessness of movements in the rankings than in the past?  Obviously much of the mindless damage that U.S. News inflicts is a consequence of the fact that journalists report changes in the rankings as though they have something to do with events in the real world, when they almost never do.  As I noted in the "Open Letter" to Bob Morse:

[T]he almost exclusive way in which a school improves its US News rank (apart from some arbitrary fluctuations in reputational scores, which schools can not control) is very clear:  manipulation, trickery and, at worst, deceit.  You know this as well as I do.  Schools hire unemployed graduates as research assistants, hand out fee waivers to hopeless applicants to improve their acceptance rates, inflate their expenditures data through creative accounting or simply fabrication, cut their first-year enrollment (to boost their medians) while increasing the number of transfers (to make up the lost revenue), and so on.  Because more than half the total score in U.S. News depends on manipulable data, schools intent on securing the public relations benefits of a higher rank simply "cook the books" or manipulate the numbers to secure a more favorable U.S. News outcome.  Schools vary, to be sure, in how aggressive they are about data manipulation, and one expects that public law schools, whose records are subject to scrutiny, are especially careful.  But there is no one in legal education who will deny, with a straight face, that a significant number of law schools, probably the majority, now "massage" their reporting, often within the letter, if not the spirit, of the rules.

Have journalists who cover higher education and law finally gotten the message?  I'd be interested in hearing from others in legal education about their perceptions/experiences.  (Post only once; comments may take awhile to appear.)

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Yeah but our editors make us write stories about them anyway.

Posted by: | Jun 6, 2008 10:42:00 AM

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