U.S. News & World Report recently announced changes to its law school rankings methodology, after Harvard Law School and other institutions said they'd no longer participate in the process.
CNN  — 

U.S. News & World Report is changing the formula used to determine its list of best law schools after several prestigious institutions decided to bow out of the famed rankings.

In a letter to law school deans published Monday, the publication announced that it would place less importance on surveys that ask academic administrators, lawyers and judges to rate the quality of institutions and more emphasis on measures such as bar exam pass rates and employment outcomes. The changes stem from conversations with more than 100 law school deans and representatives, according to the letter.

“From completing extensive surveys to providing us feedback, we have worked cooperatively to create fair and objective standards for an important academic discipline while providing students with a broad array of choices among nearly 200 schools. We have helped expand the universe of well-known law schools beyond the club of Ivy League schools of the last century,” wrote Bob Morse, U.S. News’ chief data strategist, and Stephanie Salmon, its senior vice president of data and information strategy.

“But we realize that legal education is neither monolithic nor static and that the rankings, by becoming so widely accepted, may not capture the individual nuances of each school in the larger goal of using a common set of data.”

The changes to the rankings follow a recent exodus by top law schools, as well as years of criticism from some in higher education. Yale and Harvard law schools announced last November that they would no longer participate in the rankings process, arguing that the publication’s methodology discouraged institutions from supporting public interest careers and from providing aid to those who need it most. At least a dozen other law schools followed suit.

U.S. News addressed some of those critiques in its latest announcement, saying it would change how it scored graduates pursuing public interest fellowships or further studies.

Under its previous methodology, graduating students who received fellowships from their schools to support them in public interest careers were effectively counted as unemployed, as were those who were enrolled in PhD or master’s programs, Yale Law School Dean Heather Gerken noted in a statement last year. U.S. News said next year’s rankings would give “full-weight” to such students.

Gerken and Harvard Law School Dean John Manning had also raised concerns around how U.S. News calculates student debt loads. The rankings don’t currently factor in loan forgiveness programs, which graduates in service-oriented jobs often rely on to pay off their debts.

“In short, when law schools devote resources to encouraging students to pursue public interest careers, U.S. News mischaracterizes them as low-employment schools with high debt loads,” Gerken wrote last year. “That backward approach discourages law schools throughout the country from supporting students who dream of a service career.”

U.S. News acknowledged those concerns, as well as others around how the rankings affect distribution of financial aid and the socioeconomic diversity of law school classes, but said changes on those fronts would require more time and deliberation.

Despite the changes, Yale Law School said it stood by its decision to withdraw from the rankings process.

“Having a window into the operations and decision-making process at U.S. News in recent weeks has only cemented our decision to stop participating in the rankings,” Gerken said in a statement to CNN.

Harvard Law School declined to comment.

U.S. News said it will still rank law schools that don’t participate in its surveys by using publicly available data, but will publish more detailed profiles of schools that do respond.

“We maintain that data beyond the rankings – whether collected by U.S. News or the American Bar Association – is an essential resource for students navigating the complex admissions process and seeking to evaluate the important but costly education that you deliver,” Morse and Salmon wrote.