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'Best colleges' top-tier list again names Rollins College and adds UCF for first time, too

Rollins College retains its perch atop the list of regional schools in the South, and University of Central Florida scores its first numerical ranking among national universities in the latest edition of U.S. News & World Report's "America's Best Colleges."

The newsmagazine's popular annual roundup of top schools, released today, receives close attention from families making college choices and from image-conscious schools looking to see whether they have moved up or down.

Among the hundreds of schools classified as national universities — often the biggest schools with the widest variety of offerings — UCF for the first time received a numerical ranking: 179.

It did so by making it onto a newly expanded list of top-tier schools.

Traditionally, the magazine has assigned numerical rankings only to 100 or so national schools in the first of several tiers. The remaining schools were left unranked in lower tiers. UCF has been listed in the lower tiers for years.

Now UCF is in the same tier as Harvard, Princeton and Yale, which rank 1, 2 and 3, respectively.

U.S. News' rankings are widely read because they are an easy-to-understand gauge of academic quality, educators say. Rankings are based on criteria that include freshman-retention rates, percentage of faculty that are full-time, class sizes and SAT/ACT scores of enrolled students.

In the top tier, the private University of Miami is the top-ranked Florida school, at No. 47, up from 50th last year. University of Florida is No. 53, down from 47th last year.

The new ranking for UCF is especially gratifying, given Florida's tight higher-education budget, university spokesman Grant Heston said. "Faculty and staff have never worked harder."

UCF also made an alphabetical listing of "A-Plus Schools for B Students," as did Florida State University in Tallahassee and University of South Florida in Tampa.

For the sixth year in a row, Winter Park's Rollins College placed first on the list of four-year schools in the South that offer undergraduate and master's programs but few, if any, doctoral programs.

Stetson University in DeLand tied for third on the same list with James Madison University in Virginia.

The magazine groups these institutions in four regions — South, North, West and Midwest — and ranks them against peer schools that tend to draw students from surrounding states.

Rollins and Stetson also made a list of "Great Schools, Great Prices" for being highly ranked and having generous financial aid.

"We are especially pleased that Rollins has been recognized for our dedication to providing the highest-quality education," Rollins President Lewis Duncan said.

Both Rollins and Stetson have been listed among the top regional schools in the South for years.

"We are proud of Stetson University's continued recognition as one of the top three universities in the South," Provost Beth Paul said in a statement. "This honor celebrates Stetson's deep commitment to academic excellence and integrity."

The print version of U.S. News' rankings will be on newsstands later this month. The rankings are available online today at usnews.com.

Luis Zaragoza can be reached at lzaragoza@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5718.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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