U.S. News & World Report recently released the embargoed version of their 2023 (2022 release) rankings, and we can confirm that there have been changes to the methodology used to calculate schools' overall ranking.
First, U.S. News has increased the weight allocated to its bar passage metric. Previously the bar passage score was assigned a 2.25% weight; that has been increased to 3%.
Second, U.S. News has changed how the bar passage metric is scored. Previously U.S. News considered a school's first-time bar passage rate only in the jurisdiction where a majority or plurality of its graduates took the bar, comparing that rate to the jurisdiction's overall average pass rate. For example, if a school had 100 graduates sit for the bar and 40 took it in State A, 30 in State B, and 30 in State C, then U.S. News would compare the pass rate among the 40 graduates who took the bar in State A to State A's overall first-time pass rate. If 85% of the school's graduates sitting for the bar in State A passed the first time, compared to an 80% overall pass rate among all schools' graduates sitting for the bar for the first time in State A, U.S. News would say that school had a 106.25% "adjusted" bar passage rate.
With the new methodological changes, U.S. News now considers first-time bar passage rates compared to the overall state first time pass rate in every jurisdiction where a school's graduates took the exam. The states are weighed proportionally — so for the above example, the school's bar passage rate in State A would be weighted 40%, State B would be weighted 30%, and State C would also be weighted 30%. This means that schools that send their graduates to many different states will now have a more representative result in the bar passage metric. This may also be bad news for "elite" schools in states like California — the California bar exam historically results in relatively low bar passage rates, so graduates who take the bar exam in other states (with higher average overall passage rates) are likely to dilute the school's performance in this metric.
The third change U.S. News made was to the library metrics that were introduced in last year's 2022 edition of the rankings. Previously there had been 7 such metrics, each weighted at 0.25%. Now, U.S. News has consolidated those 7 into a single metric, the ratio of full-time equivalent professional librarian positions to students. That single metric is weighted at 1%.
We think these changes are positive improvements to the rankings formula. The bar passage metric now more fully reflects schools' performance while still accounting for the relative difficulty of different state bar exams. The library metric also better reflects one of the more important resources available to students, professional library staff. We think that's a much better metric to focus on than some of the metrics included last year (such as the number of physical seats in the library or the number of databases students have access to).
We expect that these changes, and the historic 2020-2021 admission cycle, will lead to more volatility in the rankings results this year than is usually the case. Because the score differences between schools are so small, even minor changes to the methodology can lead to seemingly drastic changes.
As usual, we would like to emphasize that, while the rankings are relevant, they shouldn't be the primary basis by which applicants decide where to attend. As U.S. News themselves has pointed out, they are just one of a number of factors to consider.