Washington Monthly magazine’s new rankings of the top public educational institutions places UCF as the 47th Best National University — jumping 23 spots from the previous year. UCF is also ranked seventh Best Bang for the Buck College in the southeast, moving up from the 23rd spot in 2021, and maintains its position as a Best College for Student Voting for the fifth consecutive year. The university moved up 21 spots to earn the No. 37 ranking among national universities for Social Mobility — which is one of the three major categories the overall rankings are based on.
The magazine’s 2022 College Guide and Rankings considers three equally weighted portions that indicate institutions’ contribution to the public good: social mobility, research, and community and national service. Placements on this year’s rankings indicate UCF is not just a good place to earn an education, but a place that unleashes the potential of its people to do good in the world.
“America needs a different definition of higher education excellence, one that empowers public institutions at the expense of elites, instead of the other way around,” Washington Monthly states in its rankings release. “One that measures what colleges do for their country, instead of for themselves. … Instead of rating colleges by wealth, fame, and exclusivity, we prize social mobility, public service, and research.”
Among public universities, UCF ranks 22nd for Best National Universities, 19th for Social Mobility, 68th for Research and 89th for Service. Rankings are based on publicly available data largely collected by the federal government and each of the three major portions considers a variety of contributing factors.
“At the University of Central Florida, we take great pride in providing students with access to success in higher education. By offering opportunities to large numbers of under-represented minorities, limited income families, and first-generation students, we give thousands of hopeful young men and women the chance to unleash their own potential,” says Paul Dosal, senior vice president for Student Success.
Across all institutions, UCF earned the No. 107 spot for Research and No. 151 for Service. The Best National University Rankings places 442 institutions out of the 1,466 considered, including public, private nonprofit and for-profit colleges, across four-year colleges and universities.
Social Mobility: An Affordable, High-quality Education That Leads to Long-term Success
As the No. 19 public institution for social mobility, UCF knows higher education has the ability to break the break the cycle of intergenerational hardship and lead to prosperity for individuals of any background.
“A higher education degree is the ticket to longer, healthier, happier and more prosperous lives,” Dosal says. “So, by providing students with a timely pathway to a degree, with minimal level of debt and fully prepared for success in the global marketplace or graduate school, we are making a significant contribution to social mobility and the economic development of our region, state and country.”
Some of the data Washington Monthly considered for its ranking includes eight-year graduation rates for all students, which is 72% at UCF — higher than other well-respected and nationally recognized schools like ASU (64%) and University of Kansas (64%). The number of UCF’s Pell grant graduates in the last academic year, which is more than any other school in Florida, and the percentage of students who receive Pell grants were also considered. As of Spring 2022, 31% of UCF students are Pell-grant eligible. Measures across actual versus predicted data was also considered including graduate rates based on the student body makeup and earnings of individuals 10 years after entering college.
Metrics related to loan repayments covered two factors as well. As of Spring 2022, 42% of UCF students are the first in their family to attend a college or university. Of first-time-in-college students at UCF, nearly 60% graduate without any educational debt.
In 2021, philanthropist and author MacKenzie Scott and her husband, Dan Jewett, invested $40 million in UCF, which is being used to strengthen the university’s focus on fostering social mobility while developing the skilled talent needed to advance industry across the state and beyond.
Social Mobility rankings were also used to inform the Best Bang for the Buck rankings, which were divided into five regions and indicate how well schools help non-wealthy students attain marketable degrees at affordable prices.
Research: Advancing Scientific Discovery
Without funding, research would not be possible, which is why Washington Monthly includes institutional research spending as a measure for its Research category. Despite a pandemic that slowed the economy; delayed or derailed some federal and private agencies’ spending plans; and frustrated supply chains, UCF generated $212.9 million in research awards in 2021 — up more than $8 million from 2020.
The number of science and engineering Ph.D.s awarded and the number of undergraduate alumni who go on to earn Ph.D.s, were also considered. Founded in 1963 as an engineering-based institution driven to supply talent to the nearby Kennedy Space Center (KSC), UCF has a strong history of producing a large number of science and engineering graduates. Over the past 10 years, UCF has awarded over 1,500 doctorates in STEM fields, accounting for about 24% of all doctoral degrees. UCF has also recently joined a national alliance that aims to double the number of Hispanic doctoral students at member institutions.
This summer UCF awarded its 400,000 degree since it began offering classes in 1968 to a Laura Segarra ’22PhD, a KSC employee who earned a doctorate in industrial engineering. Dozens of UCF alums are supporting America’s space program through their work on the Artemis program. More than 20 UCF faculty and researchers and several students are also working on projects related to scientific discovery facilitated by the program.
Faculty excellence also contributes to the research measure as prestigious awards among full-time faculty and the proportion of those who are members of the national academies are factored in as well. Some of the national academies UCF faculty have been inducted into within the past year include the National Academy of Inventors, Jefferson Science Fellowship (which is administered by the National Academies), Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, National Academy of Public Administration, and National Academy of Engineering.
Service: Giving Back to Our National and Global Communities
UCF not only promotes a culture of excellence in classrooms and research facilities, but across our campus and community as service remains an essential component of the university’s creed.
Some of Washington Monthly’s measures for community service include the number of students enrolled in campus ROTC programs and Carnegie Community Engagement Classification — which UCF received in 2015.
The percentages of students in AmeriCorps and alumni in the Peace Corps, using pre-pandemic data as the program paused in 2020, relative to college size was another factor. Prior to the pandemic, the Peace Corps ranked UCF as No. 24 for top volunteer-producing universities and colleges among large institutions in 2020, with 39 Knights volunteering around the world. UCF political science alum Bernice Cabral ’19 is among the first Peace Corps volunteers to return to overseas service this year.
Community service measures also whether colleges match Segal AmeriCorps Education Awards; the percentage of work-study grant money spent on community service projects; and student voting engagement, which UCF earned recognition for within a separate category on this year’s rankings.
Voting: A Commitment to Fostering Civic Engagement
While Washington Monthly notes that traditionally many college administrators do not consider improving voter turnout as part of their duties, individuals who pursue higher education are more likely to be civically engaged. UCF has recognized its responsibility to empower students to vote while at the university — aiming to help Knights establish a pattern of participation in this important democratic practice.
To make the list, “schools need to have shown a repeated commitment to increasing student voting — and have been transparent about the results,” according to Washington Monthly’s methodology statement. Since Washington Monthly has begun including measures on student voting in 2018, UCF has placed on the list for five consecutive years.
This criterion includes submitting action plans to the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge, signing up to receive data from the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE) — which calculates college-specific registration and voting rates — and making that data available to the public.
“We’re honored to receive this designation as a 2022 Washington Monthly Student Voting Honor Roll campus,” says Amanda Dever, assistant director for Community Engagement in the Office of Student Involvement. “This designation is a result of collaboration across the university, and we are excited to continue voter engagement efforts this year.”
Last year, UCF received a Gold Seal from the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge for nonpartisan student voter participation efforts in the 2020 election. The challenge aims to promote a more engaged and inclusive democracy across colleges and universities and UCF exceeded its goal of 70% voter engagement among students by 5%. A 2021 study from NSLVE found UCF had a student voting rate outpaced the national average by 9%. The NSLVE report also found that 89% of UCF’s student body is registered to vote and 84% of those registered voters participated in the 2020 election. Nationally, about 80% of registered students voted in 2020.