No. 1 rankings come with the territory at the University of Florida, the state’s oldest, richest and most prestigious school. Consider its sports teams, which have won 30 major championships in the last 30 years, raising its national profile and feeding a rabid fan base.
But those are just games, exciting but peripheral to UF’s core mission of educating students. That’s why a recent No. 1 is worthy of more universal acclaim.
In a recent survey that places great emphasis on affordability, The Wall Street Journal has named UF the best public college in the U.S. and No. 15 among all schools, public and private.
It ranks higher than Dartmouth College, Cornell University, the New Jersey Institute of Technology and the University of Michigan, which is some pretty good company. (In a separate and better-known ranking this week, UF lost its prestigious standing as a top 5 public university, slipping to No. 6, according to the 2024 Best College rankings from U.S. News & World Report. But it rose in stature among all universities nationally.)
Several other Florida universities are doing well, too, according to the Journal, which said its rankings reject the assumption that education quality is largely dictated by how expensive it is to produce. Florida International University is ranked No. 4 among public universities and Florida State University is ranked No. 35. The University of South Florida was more toward the middle of the pack, at No. 151.
The Florida Legislature and the state Board of Governors, which runs Florida’s university system, deserve a good share of the credit for the high marks. Like the rankings, they have placed significant emphasis on student outcomes, including prodding universities to make sure students are getting their money’s worth from their pricey degrees.
Even the many Floridians unhappy with the ongoing battles over race and gender on Florida campuses have to be pleased with the push for greater affordability. It matters — to students, to parents and to taxpayers. It’s not the only thing that makes for a good college experience, but graduating with less or no debt from a highly rated school is a great way to enter the workforce.
There are caveats, of course. Rankings are never perfect, in part because they look more at past accomplishments than new problems. The Journal rankings, for example, did not take into account growing faculty discontent in Florida over the politicization of higher education. Close to half of the 642 Florida professors who responded to a recent survey said they planned to seek employment in a different state within the next year.
The Journal rankings were largely about costs and how they align with the projected financial benefits of a college degree. In that area, UF is a standout.
The school was highly ranked for the way it raises its graduates’ salaries beyond what they would be expected to earn if they had gone to any other college. It got strong marks for its high graduation rate. But most intriguing was UF’s sterling score in a category that estimates how quickly a college education pays for itself through the salary boost it provides.
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If you graduate from Princeton, which finished No. 1 overall in the Journal rankings, it takes an average of six months for the degree to pay for itself. It takes 11 months if your degree is from Yale University, which ranked third overall. UF graduates required just three months to earn back their college costs.
Now that’s a bargain we can all celebrate.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.