Annual “Jumps” and “Slips” in the U.S. News Ranking

I recently received this e-mail from a student deciding among various law schools (with actualy school names replaced with numbers by me):

I read your blog all the time and I’m very impressed with your knowledge and intuition. I’m currently deciding between School 1, School 2, and School 3. School 1 just jumped in the ranking while the others slipped. Any advice?

Part of my advice was that it depends on what you want to do with your life: Different schools are better or worse for different people. But I also added that it is a major mistake to think that recent “jumps” or “slips” in the U.S. News ranking have any reflection at all on school quality. Such changes generally reflect the extent to which each Dean’s Office gave in to the pressure to massage self-reported numbers in that particular year relative to all the other Dean’s Offices. But Deans come and go, as does the intensity of the pressure to massage the numbers at each school. Given that, the very latest fluctuations in the rankings don’t tell you very much about the future ranking of the school — and they certainly don’t tell you anything about the actual quality of the institution.

Too cynical?

UPDATE: It occurs to me that this points to an important question that Dean Search Committees should be asking candidates: “When it comes to massaging self-reported numbers to the U.S. News, do you think you would report honestly; massage the numbers enough just to keep up with the Joneses; or would you be entirely shameless?”

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