Rankings are not the end-all, be-all of measuring a university's worth, but being placed at the top never hurts.
University officials received a pleasant January surprise when the editors of Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine announced the UI's Urbana campus had jumped 18 spots in its annual report ranking the "Best Values in Public Colleges."
Improved test scores and graduation rates, as well as new Kiplinger ranking criteria, brought the UI to the 27th spot overall for in-state students for 2011-12, a marked improvement from last year's rank of 45. For out-of-state students, the UI was ranked 25th nationally.
The only other Illinois school to be included in the Top 100 was UIS, which was ranked 85 for in-state students and 71 for out-of-staters. It was the first time UIS made the top 100.
The Urbana campus's in-state rank trailed only two other Big 10 universities -
University of Wisconsin (13) and the University of Michigan (16). Its out-of-state rank trailed Wisconsin, Michigan and the University of Minnesota. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was named the top-ranked "value" school in America.
Kiplinger senior editor Jane Bennett Clark said the magazine starts the ranking process with data from 120 public universities nationally, which includes information on academic success, tuition, costs and fees, available financial aid, and a host of other statistics.
"Our rankings focus on traditional four-year schools with broad-based curricula," she said. "As a result, schools that offer great value but focus on special or narrow academic programs, such as the military service academies, are excluded. Academic quality carries more weight than costs."
A third of the ranking is based on cost and available student aid.
"We consider low sticker prices, generous need-based aid, and percentage of need met - the extent to which financial aid bridges the gap between the family's expected contribution and the cost of attendance," she said.
UI Chancellor and Vice President Phyllis M. Wise said the Kiplinger announcement was good for university public relations - but that efforts are already being made to further improve.
"We are pleased that Kiplinger's recognizes that an education at Illinois remains one of the best values in higher education," she said. "We continue to provide financial support to students who do not have the ability to pay the full cost of tuition and fees so that the best and brightest students have access to a University of Illinois education."