The University of Florida’s top-5 ranking reflects what’s possible when the state sets an ambitious goal and rallies hard to achieve it.
U.S. News & World Report listed UF among the nation’s top five public universities in its annual rankings released Monday. Florida tied the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and the University of California, Santa Barbara, after moving up from No. 6 last year. The rankings used 17 metrics, focusing mostly on student outcomes, including graduation rates. Other Florida schools also climbed in ranks or held their place from last year. For the second year in a row, Florida State University was listed at No. 19 among public universities, and the University of South Florida came in at No. 46. The University of Central Florida moved up 10 spots, landing at No. 67.
The Gators did not earn the national distinction by accident, or by themselves alone. The university closely monitored over 100 data points, from graduation rates of Pell Grant-eligible students to incoming freshmen who graduated in the top of their class. Over the last 20 years, UF tripled its research volume, and in the last two years, added more than 500 full-time faculty. Those moves have enrichened the research base, and provided students more face time with professors. The university has a 97 percent retention rate (a measure of how many students keep going after enrolling as freshmen) and 89 percent graduation rate, both among the highest in the country.
UF also offers a bang for the buck. More than two-thirds of its graduates enter the workforce with no debt, reflecting UF’s ability to combine affordability with excellence. UF has reduced student debt by nearly 15% in the past four years. And its new artificial intelligence initiative promises to transform the university’s imprint on teaching, research and workforce development.
UF president Kent Fuchs had vowed to break into the top five, and he rightly called the moment “a milestone for the university” and a rewriting of the narrative of the South. “There’s been a perception in the past that only people in the Northeast or West Coast or maybe the Midwest value universities,” he said. And Fuchs credited a wide range of actors — from Florida lawmakers, the state’s university system and private-sector supporters to the university’s staff, students, and alumni for uniting behind this push for distinction.
Even in a state like Florida, with its tribal allegiance to college identity, the Gators’ success should be celebrated as a statewide achievement. It didn’t come easy or cheap, but its reflection on the entire state is priceless.
The top 10 public universities
1. University of California, Los Angeles
2. University of California, Berkeley
3. University of Michigan - Ann Arbor
5. University of Florida*
5. University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill*
10. William & Mary*
Source: U.S. News & World Report
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