Most Maryland colleges and universities remained in similar spots in annual rankings released Tuesday by U.S. News & World Report, but the magazine highlighted individual programs at the University of Maryland College Park and again placed the University of Maryland, Baltimore County at the top of its up-and-coming list.
College Park finished No. 56 in the overall ranking of national universities, down three spots from 2009. But U.S. News placed the state's flagship university 20th on its up-and-coming list, praised its programs for first-year students and its themed learning communities, and ranked its undergraduate business program No. 19 in the country.
About half the freshmen at College Park are part of learning communities, meaning they live and take classes together based on a shared academic interest, said Mahlon Straszheim, the university's associate provost.
"We're always trying to innovate with our starting students," he said. "If they have that grounding right off the bat, they're more likely to stay with us."
Straszheim said the rankings are useful because they help alert students to specific features of a university.
The U.S. Naval Academy also continued its rise in the ranking of liberal arts colleges, jumping three spots to No. 16 and finishing No. 5 on a list of best undergraduate engineering programs. For the first time, the magazine incorporated rankings from high school counselors in its formula, and the academy was the No. 1 liberal arts school by that new measure.
"It is a privilege for the U.S. Naval Academy to receive such high recognition from those who are so influential in advising young men and women," Bruce Latta, dean of admissions, said in a statement. "We think this is reflective of the great opportunity for moral, mental and physical development that the Naval Academy affords our nation's most talented and well rounded young Americans."
UMBC topped the up-and-coming list for a second straight year, continuing the wave of positive attention it has received under President Freeman A. Hrabowski III.
To determine its up-and-coming list, U.S. News asks university presidents, provosts and admissions officers to nominate schools that have made recent leaps in academics, student quality, campus life diversity and facilities. If it sounds a little strange for the same university to top the list two years in a row, well, Hrabowski isn't complaining.
"It's not a fixed point; if you're up and coming, it's an ongoing process," he said. "I think we've created a model for doing first-rate research and, more importantly, getting undergraduates involved in that research."
UMBC has generally finished in the second tier of the magazine's overall rankings for national universities but moved into the first tier this year, finishing tied at No. 159. UMBC also made a repeat appearance on the list of national universities that emphasize excellent teaching for undergraduates.
Hrabowski said the recognition is having an impact. Applications were up 10 percent last year, and average SAT scores have risen as well. A team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently came to campus to study UMBC's approach to working with undergraduates.
The Johns Hopkins University finished No. 13 on the list of national universities, up one spot from 2009. Hopkins also placed sixth in the new rankings by high school counselors.
Harvard topped the widely criticized yet widely quoted rankings, followed by Princeton and Yale.
To determine the rankings, U.S. News looks at a range of factors, including acceptance rates, class size, average SAT scores of entering students, alumni giving and academic reputation.
Loyola University Maryland finished No. 3 in the North in the regional university classification, which includes schools that offer a wide range of undergraduate and master's programs but few doctorates. Loyola also finished No. 5 on the up-and-coming list for its region. That designation as a "hot" school could help attract new pools of students, said the Rev. Brian Linnane, Loyola's president.
"I think it paints a rich picture and shows how others see us," Linnane said. "It reflects the investment we've made in our facilities and our academic programs, and that's certainly gratifying."
Linnane pointed to the university's renovated library, new athletic facilities and growing business school as examples of recent enhancements.
The College of Notre Dame of Maryland finished No. 29 on the regional list and Towson University was No. 46.
Stevenson University placed No. 11 on the list of regional institutions that emphasize the undergraduate experience and offer few graduate degrees.
Among liberal arts schools, St. Mary's College placed No. 88, Washington College finished No. 93, Goucher College finished down six spots at No. 111 and McDaniel College finished No. 122. Washington College placed ninth on the up-and-coming list for liberal arts colleges.
Morgan State fell five spots to No. 20 and Coppin State finished in the second tier among historically black institutions.
Highlights of U.S. News rankings for Md. colleges
•The Johns Hopkins University finished No. 13 on the list of national universities and No. 6 in a ranking by high school counselors
•UMBC was No. 1 on the up-and-coming list for the second year in a row and was tied for No. 159 in the overall ranking of national universities
•University of Maryland, College Park finished No. 56 in the overall ranking of national universities and 20th on the up-and-coming list
•The U.S. Naval Academy ranked No. 1 of liberal arts colleges according to high school counselors
•Loyola University Maryland finished No. 3 in the North in the regional university classification and No. 5 on the up-and-coming list for its region
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