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Illinois State University students and their parents move into Watterson Towers on the Normal campus in August.

DAVID PROEBER, PANTAGRAPH FILE PHOTO

NORMAL — Illinois State University dropped slightly in the rankings among national universities and Illinois Wesleyan University moved up one notch among national liberal arts colleges in the latest Best Colleges rankings by U.S. News and World Report.

The Best Colleges publication released Tuesday includes information on more than 1,800 colleges and universities and rankings for nearly 1,400 of them, divided into four categories: national universities, national liberal arts colleges, regional universities and regional colleges.

The University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign ranked 14th among public national universities and 52nd overall.

Despite the dip in the rankings, ISU President Larry Dietz said he was happy with ISU once again being in the top 100 among national public universities.

“Any time you can be in the company with the elite, it's good,” he said.

IWU tied for 71st among national liberal arts colleges, up from 72nd last year. National liberal arts colleges focus on undergraduate education and award at least half of their degrees in liberal arts fields.

Also ranked were Peoria's Bradley University, seventh among Midwest regional universities, and Eureka College, 26th among Midwest regional colleges.

Many publications issue national rankings, but U.S. News tends to draw more attention than others because it uses a lot of objective criteria such as graduation and retention rates, class sizes, student-faculty ratios, alumni giving and standardized test scores in addition to surveys of administrators and high school counselors.

About 32 percent of classes at ISU have fewer than 20 students, and its graduation rate of 72 percent exceed the national average of about 60 percent.

“Though we know that rankings are only a small piece of the Illinois State story, the report reaffirms that our excellence is celebrated by more than Redbird family and friends,” said Dietz.

One change this year in the methodology for ranking national universities focused on the proportion of degrees granted in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math — commonly referred to as STEM.

“We do OK overall, but we don't have engineering,” noted Dietz.

Another area that hurt ISU's score was the percentage of applicants that it accepts. ISU admits a higher percentage than some “more selective” schools and “under the criteria they use, U.S. News dinged us a little bit” on that, said Dietz.

Its fall 2016 acceptance rate was 89 percent.

Even though ISU is accepting a higher percentage of applicants, “our academic profile remains the same,” he said, referring to the grade point averages and standardized test scores of those who are accepted.

Follow Lenore Sobota on Twitter @Pg_Sobota

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