University of Miami Climbs Back Into U.S. News' Top 50 Colleges, Leapfrogs University of Florida

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Roughly a year ago today, U.S. News & World Report, the oft-criticized college-ranking news magazine, booted the University of Miami from its list of the top 50 national universities for the first time in six years. Until then, the school had been neck-and-neck with the University of Florida in the Sunshine State's collegiate arms race — last year, U.S. News said UM was the 51st-best school in the nation, while UF jumped to number 47 overall.

But it appears UM's brief period of statewide disgrace has ended. Today, U.S. News released its 2017 "Best Colleges" list, which places the Hurricanes at number 44 overall — and drops the Gators to number 50.

Elsewhere, Florida State University climbed four spots, to number 92, while the University of South Florida came in at 159. Miami's other large college, Florida International University, did not make the top-tier "Best Colleges" list.

College rankings are an irrational point of pride for administrators, alumni, and deans. High-ranking schools often charge more for tuition and tend to attract higher-caliber professors. But critics say those rankings are often meaningless, tend to fluctuate each year for no real reason, and exacerbate America's inequality issues. In 2013, the Atlantic excoriated U.S. News' ranking system for being arbitrary, encouraging colleges to conform to the organization's educational "standards," based rankings on subjective categories such as "reputation," and making kids who don't get into elite schools feel terrible about themselves. The news organization has also been accused of tweaking its rankings each year to drive sales.

But as dubious as the list may be, millions of Americans still use it to choose their universities. And college admissions officials vomit out their ranking numbers in as many promotional materials as possible.

There are a few clear reasons UM topped UF this time around. For one, Miami's "selectivity" rate — that is, the percentage of applicants it accepts — is only 38 percent, to Florida's 48 percent. (Important caveat: Colleges have been accused of inflating selectivity numbers too. Though a college like Harvard lets in a ridiculously low number of people, it also receives a glut of unqualified candidates who swell the rankings.) Students also receive slightly more attention at UM: Its student-to-faculty ratio is 12 to 1, compared with the gigantic UF's 21 to 1. More than half of Gator classes contain more than 20 students.

However, the schools' graduation rates are roughly identical: In four years, Miami graduates 68 percent of students, while 66 percent of UF kids receive diplomas. UM costs around $47,000 a year, while the public UF costs $28,666 out-of-state and just over $6,000 per year in-state.

But overall, it's unclear why the rankings flipped this time around — most of U.S. News' school data lies behind a hard paywall, so you'll have to fork over some money to find out yourself.

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