Gov. Ron DeSantis entered a small room packed with faculty and media this morning in UF’s Emerson Alumni Hall to give a ‘major announcement’: UF is now the seventh best public university in the U.S.
The distinction comes from U.S. News and World Report, which released its 35th annual college rankings list for 2020 Monday. UF tied with the University of California, Santa Barbra for seventh place and moved to 34th on the national ranking of public and private universities, up from 35th place in the 2019 rankings.
UF first entered the Top 10 list in the 2018 rankings when it tied for ninth place with the University of California, Irvine and the University of California, San Diego. It reached the list again in the 2019 rankings when it tied with the Georgia Institute of Technology for eighth place.
The rankings were based off of graduation and retention rates, class size, faculty pay, student performance, expert opinion and more, according to U.S. News.
DeSantis said this progress not only helps students, but also helps the entire state grow economically.
“People don't necessarily realize that our entire state university system is ranked number one by U.S. News as well. They don't necessarily know that University of Florida is going to be knocking on the top five soon,” DeSantis said. “I think when people know that, they're like, ‘Man, we're going to have a lot of talent down in Florida. This is a great place to invest.’”
UF President Kent Fuchs said the new distinction can increase faculty and student recruitment from across the nation, provide new opportunities for university-sponsored philanthropy and prove to Florida’s state legislature that its increased funding has paid off.
Former Florida Gov. Rick Scott established the Florida Preeminence Program in 2013, in which the state gives promising public universities extra money to improve their academics and climb national rankings.
UF was identified as a preeminent university since the program started, Fuchs said. It now receives about $200 million more a year than they did before 2013.
“We have aspirations for even doing more, and that will require an even greater investment by the state. So we can prove that we can deliver it if they'll make the investment,” Fuchs said.
The end goal is to be among the top five public universities in the country, which Fuchs hopes to accomplish within the next few years, he said — and there’s no doubt in his mind that it will happen eventually.
But it won’t happen all on its own, he said.
He wants to bring an assortment of improvements to the university, including new and renovated on-campus dormitories, more financial assistance for students in need, increased salaries for faculty and better landscaping across campus.
“We can rest on our laurels and celebrate where we are and just be comfortable,” Fuchs said. “Or we can sort of feed the fire, and that's what we want to do. Just keep it going.”
One of the largest initiatives is to hire more faculty, UF spokesperson Steve Orlando said. In 2017, UF planned to hire more than 500 faculty to improve student-to-professor ratios. The university has hired more than half of their goal, and it’s aiming to complete the initiative and make the ratio 16:1 by the end of 2019.
“The higher we get on the rankings, the better education our students are getting,” Orlando said. “Higher ranking means we can recruit even more top quality faculty, even more top quality graduate students. So it's really something that allows everybody to win.”