Attitudes are changing towards higher education ranking lists
Recently, Harvard Medical School (HMS) revealed that it would no longer be submitting information to U.S. News & World Report, a body that ranks higher learning institutions, from law schools to business schools, in the USA and across the world. The U.S. News & World Report is one of the most popular tools used by English-speaking prospective students and has been conducting rankings since 1983. The move by HMS comes after many prestigious, US-based law schools, including Harvard Law School, announced they would also no longer be submitting data to the ranking system in November 2022. Harvard is one of the best-known learning institutions around the world and has been consistently ranked by the U.S. News & World Report as one of the top institutions across the globe. U.S. News & World Report's executive chairman and CEO Eric Gertler says the company will continue to rank schools regardless of whether they submit data.
In an open letter, the dean of HMS, George Q. Daley, explained that higher education is too complex to be reduced to numbers, meaning the U.S. News & World Report's ranking are fundamentally flawed. “Rankings 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,” Daley wrote. He went on to argue that ranking systems like that of U.S. News & World Report create 'perverse incentives' for schools to report misleading or false information, create policies which boost rankings rather than generate student and staff wellbeing or unfairly divert financial aid from students with genuine financial struggles to well-off students with higher scores to boost the school's rankings. This is all to attract more students, who might prioritise a school's arguably arbitrary ranking above their own individual needs and aspirations.
At the same time, smaller, lesser-known schools are especially incentivised to try and appear on rankings like U.S. News & World Report, as they may fear missing out on students, who might not consider such schools if they don't appear on such lists. Further, rankings like U.S. News & World Report have been criticised for many years over the reliability of its methodology, and has been accused of bias.
Alternative ways to communicate school attributes
Daley argued in his letter that a school's benefit to a student must be evaluated on a person-to-person basis, as, “[the] suitability of any particular medical school for any given student is too complex, nuanced, and individualized to be served by a rigid ranked list, no matter the methodology.” Instead of pursuing high rankings on various lists, Daley said he wanted his school to focus on offering authentically positive experiences and opportunities for growth and lifelong learning. Despite opting out of the U.S. News & World Report's rankings, Daley stressed the importance of evaluating a school's attributes for prospective students. He said information would still be available via the school's admissions website and directed those curious about raw data to check out the Medical School Admission Requirements™ Reports for Applicants and Advisors, a directory of self-reported information regarding American medical schools.
The development among American schools boycotting such ranking systems indicates that it may be time for schools to re-think how they promote themselves to aspiring learners and their families. Rather than attempting to be ranked by a list dominated by schools who rose to prominence decades ago, schools will likely have to brainstorm about innovative ways to communicate their merits to the world. Additionally, the boycott of ranking lists might signal the decline of traditionally prestigious universities and colleges in favour of more practical approaches to education, with less weight attached to how well-known one's alma mater is. As Wittenborg's Research Centre continues to expand and compile research into the school's performance and optimisation, the school is well equipped to survive these changing attitudes.
by Olivia Nelson