For the fourth consecutive year, the University of Florida moved up in the U.S. News and World Report rankings of the best public colleges and universities in the United States, rising to a tie for No. 6 from No. 7 in the just-released Best 2021 Colleges rankings.
Florida ties for No. 6 with the University of California Santa Barbara in the 2021 U.S. News rankings for public schools, its best ranking ever. UF also tied for No. 30 in the national rankings of all universities, tying with UCSB, Tufts University, and New York University.
The university considers its positioning on the public school rankings far more important than its place in the overall rankings, however, given that it considers its peer institutions massive state schools far more than the august but smaller elite universities and liberal arts colleges. And that bias is strong enough that in its official release on the rise to No. 6, the school’s 20-spot jump from No. 50 to No. 30 in the national rankings since 2017 shares a sentence with its eight-spot vault from No. 14 to No. 6 among public schools.
Florida’s rise in these rankings also follows nearly a decade of concerted political effort to rise in these rankings that began under Governor Rick Scott with the goal of reaching the top 10 for the first time. After that status was achieved in 2017, the top five immediately became UF’s new aspiration.
But that has been slower going, with Florida picking off single schools in each of the last four years: UF ranked ninth in 2017, eighth in 2018, and tied for seventh in 2019. And for Florida to rise into the top five, it will likely need to surpass one or more of the formidable top five — currently consisting of UCLA, the University of California-Berkeley, the University of Michigan, the University of Virginia, and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
All of those top-five institutions are either part of the University of California’s massive and vaunted public university system (which counts six of its 10 campuses among the top 11 public schools in the 2021 rankings) or were among the original eight schools anointed as “Public Ivies” by author and longtime college admissions officer Richard Moll in 1985 — or, in the case of UCLA and Cal, both.
In other words: In at least one sense, the University of Florida has reached its highest height — and still has a mountain to summit.