In what state university leaders say is another sign of improving quality, Florida's top public universities rose to new heights in the latest U.S. News & World Report annual college rankings.
The 2018 rankings, which were released Tuesday, included:
· The University of Florida reached the top 10 of public universities for the first time, ranking No. 9.
· Florida State University continued its climb toward the top 25 public universities, ranking No. 33, an improvement of 10 spots over the past two years.
· The University of South Florida had the greatest statistical improvement, rising 15 spots among public universities to No. 68 and 19 places to No. 140 among national universities, which includes public and private institutions.
· Florida A&M University retained its ranking as the top public historically black college or university, or HBCU.
The improved rankings came as the Legislature, with backing from Gov. Rick Scott, has increased funding to record levels in the state university system, including a significant increase in merit and need-based financial aid.
At the same time, much of the funding is tied to performance standards, developed by the university system's Board of Governors, including measuring graduation and student-retention rates, which are also key metrics for the closely watched U.S. News & World Report evaluation.
University of Florida President Kent Fuchs called UF's move into the top 10 of public universities and a No. 42 ranking among national universities “a significant milestone that we can all be proud of.”
“And it happened as the result of many years of focused work and a keen sense of purpose,” Fuchs said. “Our faculty — the core of our academic reputation — and staff deserve tremendous credit for lifting us up to get us here, as do previous leaders, particularly (former President) Bernie Machen, and UF's board of trustees.”
Florida State climbed five spots to No. 33 on the public university list and rose on the list of national universities from No. 92 to No. 81.
FSU President John Thrasher said he was “thrilled” over the new rankings recognizing his school “as one of the best universities in the nation.”
“It means our reputation of academic excellence is rising throughout the state and the nation, and that's a reflection of our world-class faculty, staff and students,” Thrasher said.
FSU officials cited continuing improvements in the four-year and six-year graduation rates and a 93 percent retention rate for freshmen who return for their sophomore year as factors in the rising rankings.
Thrasher said the recent funding increases in the state university system “has allowed us to vigorously pursue our strategic goals.”
The University of South Florida, which has announced it is line to become the third “pre-eminent” university designated by the state this year, had the most rapid rise on the U.S. News & World Report list.
USF Provost Ralph Wilcox said over the last four years, the school has risen from No. 94 among public universities to No. 68 and from No. 170 among national universities to No. 140 on this year's list.
“That continuing upward trend is something that we're immensely, just immensely, proud of,” Wilcox said.
USF's rise is also tied to improvement on measurements like the six-year graduation rate, with the school recently recognized by the Chronicle of Higher Education for having the most improvement for that rate among public schools.
Wilcox said a more difficult U.S. News metric to improve was an academic evaluation by university peers and high school counselors.
“I think we're starting to see that move,” Wilcox said, citing the school's rising profile as a research institution.
Florida A&M University improved its ranking among all public and private HBCUs from No. 7 to No. 6 on this year's list. The school retained its ranking as the top public HBCU.
“Our new rankings are indicative of the hard work and dedication of our students, faculty, staff and alumni,” said interim FAMU President Larry Robinson. “Today's announcement is further evidence of our success in achieving our goal to provide the nation's best educational experience for our students.”
In other rankings, the University of Central Florida was No. 90 on the public university list and improved from No. 176 to No. 171 among national universities.
Florida International University was ranked No. 122 among public universities and No. 216 on the national university list.
New College of Florida was ranked No. 6, one notch down from last year's No. 5, on the public liberal-arts colleges list and No. 101 among all public and private liberal-arts schools.
The University of Miami, which had the highest ranking in the state among national universities last year at No. 44, was ranked No. 46 this year, behind UF at No. 42.