The University of Florida (UF) fell one position to No. 6 among public universities in the new, annual national rankings published overnight Sunday by U.S. News & World Report, even as the state’s flagship school climbed one spot to No. 28 in the magazine’s rankings of top public and private universities overall.
The U.S. News rankings for 2024 are significant because they are so well established. Tens of millions of prospective students and their families use them to pick where they want to attend college.
The list also put:
— Florida State at No. 23 among public schools and No. 53 among all universities.
— Miami at No. 67 among all schools.
— University of South Florida in Tampa at No. 45 among public schools and No. 89 among all universities.
— Florida International University and the University of Central Florida in Orlando tied at No. 64 among public universities and No. 124 among all schools.
— Florida A&M University at No. 3 among historically Black colleges and universities, No. 91 among public schools and No. 170 among national universities.
UF’s new President, Ben Sasse, has said he wants to deemphasize rankings because each ranking organization’s methodology can change suddenly, affecting a school’s arbitrary score. In meetings with faculty earlier this fall, Sasse also said the distinction of ranking highly as a public university was less important than UF’s ranking against all public and private universities.
Still, that was weeks before The Wall Street Journal announced new rankings that scored UF as the No. 1 public university in the country and No. 15 among all universities. The Journal’s rankings placed special emphasis on student outcomes, such as whether a college helps a student graduate on time and how much does it help improve the salaries they earn after they graduate.
UF quickly responded to the new marketing opportunity from the Journal’s rankings by producing No. 1 banners and hanging them last week across campus. Those replaced the No. 5 banners touting UF’s success last year in the U.S. News rankings. The No. 5 banners were quietly removed around campus in recent weeks.
As in previous years, those new No. 1 banners quickly became targets for theft. In videos on social media posts, thieves can be seen climbing the poles on campus and cutting or tearing down the new banners.
The U.S. News ranking changes occurred as the magazine announced changes this year to how it calculated each university’s score, placing greater emphasis on diversity, especially on a school’s success graduating students from different backgrounds. U.S. News also removed factors that included alumni giving, faculty with terminal degrees and class sizes — areas where UF has been especially strong.
In a new statement, UF touted its rise to No. 28 on the overall rankings, its growth since 2017 and the Journal’s new rankings. In the U.S. News scorings, UF soared 32 spots to No. 20 on the list of Most Innovative Schools and 28 spots to No. 37 on a ranking of Social Mobility.
“The University of Florida earned the No. 1 spot on the Wall Street Journal’s new student outcomes-based ranking which focuses on real-world benefits for students,” spokesperson Brittany Wise wrote in a statement. “Including how much a university improves students’ chances of graduating on time and how much it boosts the salaries that students earn after graduation.”
The U.S. News mixed results — rising slightly on one list and falling on another — quickly became a Rorschach test among Gator boosters and those critical of higher education policy changes enacted by Florida’s Governor and Legislature and the appointment of a conservative, former U.S. Senator as UF’s new President.
Ava Kaplan, 21, of Wilton, Connecticut, who graduated this year with a degree in political science, said she was not surprised about the drop in rankings.
Kaplan, a registered Democrat who protested Sasse’s appointment and what she described as the encroachment of fascism into Florida during a campus demonstration in February, blamed the state’s divisive political landscape. That included new laws that restrict certain topics from being taught in general education courses, outlaw spending money on most campus diversity programs and set up new reviews for professors whose tenure otherwise would protect them from political interference or retribution.
“The amount of faculty and professors leaving or engaging in self-censorship, the outright contempt for student political expression, and everything else that has come as a consequence of DeSantis’ administration interfering with Florida’s public schools has only negatively impacted UF,” Kaplan said.
Kaplan said as a graduate she was pleased to see UF highly ranked but believes the drop in rankings might cause administration to acknowledge its choices.
Sebastian Suarez Berrocal, 29, of Washington, who graduated last year with a business degree, expected the change in U.S News rankings after the change in methodology was announced.
“UF is still a very strong public school, a (change) doesn’t make or break an institution. Just look at the WSJ ranking. Different parameters and methodology used, yet we placed as No. 1,” Suarez Berrocal said.
Addressing the thefts of the new No. 1 banners, UF published its own tongue-in-cheek video — “We’re on a mission to protect our banners,” it said — to social media over the weekend. The video featured a fictional exchange between facilities employees named Shane and Trevor unsuccessfully brainstorming ways to discourage the thefts.
Their solution: Attach pink sticky notes to poles that read, “Dear student, we’re asking that you do the right thing and choose to buy your banner from the bookstore.”
“They’re good kids,” one of them tells the other. “This will work for sure.”
It did not work.
This story was produced as a Breaking News article by a student in the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporter can be reached at [email protected]. You can donate to support our students here.