We’re number 5: UAF places high in US News & World Report popularity rankings

Teri Anderson/ Sun Star Contributor
Feb. 7, 2012

Last month, U.S. News & World Report magazine announced its annual list of the  “Most Popular National Universities.” UAF came in fifth place, just behind Harvard and Stanford.

“That can’t be right,” UAF construction management student Andy Pagel said.

But it’s true — though there is a catch.  “Popular” doesn’t mean “academically superior” or even  “rigorous.” The percentage of students who decide to attend a school after receiving a letter of acceptance determines the school’s popularity, according to U.S. News. Nearly 70 percent of the students UAF accepts enroll the following fall. In comparison, about 42 percent of students the University of Washington accepts enroll. Brigham Young University in Utah — ranked second — enrolls 75 percent of those accepted.

The popularity contest is just one category in U.S. News & World Report’s yearly “College Compass” issue.  Other lists include “Best National Universities,” “Best Liberal Arts Colleges,” “Best Value Schools” and “A+ Schools for B Students,” schools that contemplate students with “less than stellar test scores or so-so grade point averages.” UAF shows up only in the “most popular” list.

The magazine reserves its “best” category for schools offering “a full range of undergraduate majors, master’s and doctoral degrees,” according to U.S. News & World Report’s website. “These colleges are also committed to producing groundbreaking research.”  In this category, UAF is “RNP,” or “rank not published.” That means UAF is in the bottom one-fourth of the magazine’s rankings. U.S. News chooses not to publish the specific rank of its bottom 25 percent.

The northernmost university in the nation ranks in the middle of the pack in many of U.S. News and World Report’s categories. We have a freshman retention rate of 75 percent and about 62 percent of our classes have fewer than 20 students. The magazine calls both percentages “medium.” However, UAF’s four-year graduation rate (10 percent) and six-year graduation rate (32 percent) get labeled “low.”

What U.S. News & World Report didn’t mention is that UAF is a leader in international circumpolar research.

UAF promotes international cooperation through programs like the Frontier Research System for Global Change on West Ridge, a collaboration between the United States and Japan, and the International Arctic Science Committee, a network between the eight Arctic nations. We participate in the International Polar Year, an international collaboration of researchers studying the polar regions.  UAF is one of the world leaders in northern engineering studies.

And UAF has more to boast about than popularity and a famous engineering department. The theatre department graduated digital-effects designer Ben Grossman, who was recently nominated for an Academy Award for his work on the movie “Hugo.” UAF alumni have gone on to careers in Hollywood, Broadway, national news outlets, NASA, the top tiers of the federal government and much more. UAF is also the only university in the nation with its own rocket range.

UAF is also one of the very few schools in the world with ice sculptures around campus, an ice arch, an ice climbing wall, the northern lights and the 40-below club.

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