PANAMA CITY — Florida’s universities shined even brighter this year in the annual U.S. News & World Report rankings of public colleges with Florida State University breaking into the Top 20 for the first time and the University of Florida moving up a spot from last year into a tie for No. 7.

 

For FSU, including its Panama City campus, the No. 18 ranking represents an eight-spot jump from last year, the biggest one-year gain to date. And for a school that has moved up 25 positions since 2016 when it was ranked 43rd, it was cause for celebration.

“It’s an incredible accomplishment for Florida State University,” FSU President John Thrasher said. “The credit goes to so many people — our faculty, our staff, and certainly, our great students. I couldn’t be prouder.”

At UF, which has moved up seven positions in the same time period, it represented a show of consistency, UF President Ket Fuchs said.

“Three years in a row of being in the Top 10 is really reassuring that there is something that’s happening at the University of Florida that is distinctive,” Fuchs told GateHouse Media Florida. He also said the advances made by schools like FSU showed good things were happening statewide.

The strong rankings brought Gov. Ron DeSantis by both schools Monday as he recognized their achievements.

While in Gainesville, DeSantis praised all the rising state universities for making Florida the top state university system in the United States, according to U.S. News’ rankings. He said great research universities are important in Florida during a time of economic growth and positive economic indicators.

“I think when people know that, they’re like, ‘Man, we’re gonna have a lot of talent down in Florida. It’s a great place to invest,’ ” he said.

Breaking into the Top 25 was a goal set by FSU and the large leaps each year in the rankings show the college’s commitment, FSU-Panama City Dean Randy Hanna told The News Herald.

“This says to our community that students can come and receive one of the best educational experiences in the country right here in Bay County,” he said. “We’re really proud of the fact that everyone is now recognizing the many years that we have placed an emphasis on student success, graduation rates, retention rates and helping students succeed.”

The legislature provided the funding required to boost the university into the Top 25, Hanna said, and the support and leadership of Thrasher and Provost Sally McRorie played a big part.

“Student success is at the heart of everything we do here,” McRorie said in a news release. “I always say that every decision comes down to what is best for our students. Then, it becomes a fairly easy decision to make.”

Hanna said the school also is “really proud” of the role students, faculty and staff have played. Smaller class sizes were one reason cited by Hanna for the rise, with “a lot of resources” put into having classes with less than 20 students which opens up more mentoring opportunities.

And while sports opened doors for FSU as far as national visibility, the high university ranking not only continues that, but enhances it, Hanna said.

“This opens other doors, not only to students but to counselors across the country, to other academicians who may be interested in coming to Florida State,” Hanna said. “It helps in the area of research. Folks know they’re working with a Top 20 institution.”

The ranking will help the school recruit students and faculty, Hanna said. FSU-Panama City has added new programs in entrepreneurship, hospitality, mechanical and systems engineering and law enforcement intelligence in the past few years because of community demand.

“This will allow us to continue that growth for the Panama City campus,” Hanna said.

Plenty of community events are regularly held at FSU-PC, including the monthly First Friday gathering by the Bay County Chamber of Commerce.

“There are very few days there is not an event on campus, especially after Hurricane Michael,” Hanna said.