The University of Maryland, College Park received further validation yesterday of its growing national reputation as it jumped into the top 20 of U.S. News & World Report's ranking of public universities.
The university moved from 21st to 18th among public universities, tied with the University of Georgia and one notch behind the University of Florida. It moved ahead of Texas A&M; University, the University of Minnesota, Purdue University and Ohio State University.
The rise can be attributed in large part to an increase in the key measurement of "peer assessment," the reputation of its academic programs among presidents and college admissions officials at other universities.
UM spokesman George Cathcart said that though "everyone recognizes the rankings are flawed and imperfect," they nonetheless provide a "benchmark" of the university's progress.
"That's what other presidents are saying about us, and that's good that we're moving up in the world of academia," Cathcart said. "To the extent that a beauty contest is valid, these are the people who should know about this."
Also cheered by the new rankings was Salisbury University, which broke into the top tier of Northeastern universities offering master's degrees but few or no doctorates. The former teacher's college on the Eastern Shore jumped from 46th to 37th, into a tie with Towson University, among other schools.
"Research shows students maybe don't pick colleges with these [rankings], but it's important for regents, lawmakers and donors," said Salisbury spokesman Gains Hawkins. "It's a third-party endorsement."
Hood College in Frederick was singled out as one of the "best deals" among northern liberal arts colleges.
The University of Maryland's rising profile - boosted in the past year by the success of its sports teams - was reflected in the applications for this year's freshman class.
The university received a record 23,100 applications for 3,900 freshman slots. As a result, it was more selective than ever before. More than half of this year's freshmen were in the top 10 percent of their high school classes and nearly half scored more than 1300 on their SATs.
U.S. News also gave high rankings to UM's programs for first-year students and to its "learning communities," such as the Honors Program and College Park Scholars, in which selected students share dormitories and take the same classes. About 40 percent of College Park students participate in such programs.