University of Florida ranks in U.S. top 10

Students study at Library West on the campus of the University of Florida. UF ranks No. 6 on the U.S. News & World Report’s list of public universities.

The University of Florida, deeply connected to The Villages, remains as one of the country’s best. The university rose to No. 6 in the 2021 ranking of public universities from U.S. News & World Report, continuing its upward trend and putting it on the cusp of reaching its top-five goal. Beyond offering undergraduate and graduate degrees, the university was an incubator for UF Health Shands and its now four-hospital system, headquartered on the Gainesville campus. Villages residents have benefited from the UF connection in healthcare when UF Health announced last December it would build an acute care hospital, teaching facilities and research laboratories in The Villages. That relationship heightened a few months later when UF Health acquired existing hospitals in The Villages and Leesburg, allowing a more immediate opportunity for Villages residents to tap into UF’s top-ranked expertise. UF Health Shands Cancer Hospital is also nationally ranked and tops in Florida in a separate U.S. News & World Report ranking of hospitals.

Residents also saw a strong UF presence here when the coronavirus pandemic first challenged Florida. Partnering with The Villages Health, UF provided large scale COVID-19 testing at The Villages Polo Club grounds for both concerned citizens and research endeavors. Medical students from the campus played a major role in administering the tests.

The university’s academics has long-produced graduates who are part of The Villages workforce to serve residents. It’s also attracted numerous Villages High School graduates looking to continue their educations. Even residents wanting gardening tips have long benefited from the local UF IFAS extension office programs.

UF’s high academic standing nationally is nothing new. UF ranked seventh on the national ranking list last year and has improved its ranking in each of the last four years, starting at No. 14 in 2017.

“By nearly every measure, UF is continuing to make gains, and I’m thankful to the elected leaders, faculty, staff and supporters of the university who have made that possible,” said UF President Kent Fuchs. “We have momentum, focus and hard work on our side, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for this university.”

UF is the only Florida university in the top 10 among public schools and ranks behind only University of California – Los Angeles, University of California – Berkeley, University of Michigan, University of Virginia and University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, respectively.

“Our momentum is unbreakable, and we will fulfill our potential and promise of reaching top-five status,” said Mori Hosseini, chair of the UF Board of Trustees.

UF ranks No. 30 on the U.S. News & World Report’s list of Best National Universities — which includes private and public institutions — up from No. 34 a year ago.

The university’s business (No. 24), engineering (No. 32) and computer science (No. 48) undergraduate programs earned high rankings as well, putting them among the top 10% of all private and public institutions.

Rankings are determined by a formula that takes into account student outcomes, faculty resources, expert opinion, financial resources, student excellence and alumni giving.

The Villages has ties to the university through UF Health, which operates UF Health The Villages Hospital, UF Health The Villages Hospital Freestanding Emergency Room and UF Health Leesburg Hospital.

UF Health also is developing a 400-acre health care hub in The Villages, anchored by a new acute-care hospital. The hospital campus is envisioned to include health clinics, teaching facilities, research labs for products specific to older adults and on-site housing for medical personnel.

“The best is still ahead for the UF Health and The Villages partnership,” said Dr. David Nelson, senior vice president for health affairs at UF and president of UF Health.

U.S. News & World Report also recently recognized UF Health when its flagship hospital in Gainesville, UF Health Shands, was named the best hospital in Florida, a title it shares with Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville.

UF Health partnered with The Villages Health during drive-thru COVID-19 testing at The Villages, which included a research arm that tested asymptomatic patients.

Randy McDaniel, education director at The Villages Charter School, said the proximity to one of the top universities in the country is certainly a benefit for local students.

“I think many of our students target the University of Florida as a destination,” McDaniel said. “It’s one of the top universities, not just in the state but in the nation, and it’s right up the road so I would say that is very advantageous for us.”

From the first graduating class in 2006 to the class of 2019, 153 graduates from The Villages High School have attended UF.

“In my experience, UF is typically the No. 1 choice for our top academic students,” McDaniel said. “We take pride in seeing students who work so hard get accepted to UF. We’ve been fortunate to send a number of students there, and once there, they tend to be successful.”

John Rohan, director of The Villages Recreation and Parks Department, said another way The Villages has benefited from UF is in luring graduates from the scvhool to start their careers in the community.

“The University of Florida has always been synonymous with greatness and excellence,” Rohan said. “The vision is complementary to the vision of our community. Our department is proud to have a number of past graduates as part of our team.”

Rohan, who earned his bachelor’s from UF in 1993, said he is proud that his children, John Michael and Chelsea, followed in his footsteps by attending the Gainesville school. His wife, Kristine, is also a UF alumna.

“UF history and tradition runs deep in my family,” Rohan said.

In 2018, Rohan was inducted into the Distinguished Alumni Hall of Fame for the College of Health and Human Performance.

“It was quite an honor and humbling experience to receive the recognition,” Rohan said. “What was equally rewarding is that the university recognized the impact our nationally accredited recreation and parks provides to enhancing and enriching the lives of our residents.”

Specialty Editor Keith Pearlman can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5347, or keith.pearlman@thevillagesmedia.com.