The University of Virginia checks in as the country's top public university, excluding service academies, in Forbes magazine's latest listing of "America's Top Colleges."
It also is No. 18 on Forbes' list of the 20 Best Research Colleges.
Among all universities, U.Va. is ranked No. 36 and is just one of five public universities in top 50 on the Forbes list of 650 top undergraduate schools.
"This year's ranking is a reflection of our focus on attracting terrific students, giving them the most challenging coursework possible and then helping them reach their career goals," U.Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan said. "It's rewarding, of course, to rank highly. But we're mindful that you can't ever stop looking for improvements and you can't get comfortable with where you are today."
Forbes uses the Washington-based Center for College Affordability and Productivity to compile its annual rankings. Criteria, which are weighted, include post-graduate success (32.5 percent), student satisfaction (27.5 percent), debt (17.5 percent), four-year graduation rate (11.25 percent) and student competitive awards (11.25 percent).
The magazine said the rankings "do not attempt to assess a school's reputation, nor are they a measure of academic selectivity." Editors add that Forbes ignores metrics that encourage "wasteful spending."
Princeton University is this year's top-ranked school, followed by Williams College, Stanford University, the University of Chicago, Yale, Harvard, the U.S. Military Academy, Columbia University, Pomona College and Swarthmore College.
U.Va. climbed 10 spots from its No. 46 ranking in 2011. Other non-service academy public universities in the top 50 are the College of William & Mary (No. 40), the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (No. 47), the University of California-Los Angeles (No. 45), and the University of California-Berkeley (No. 50).
The commonwealth of Virginia has 22 schools in the Forbes list. Washington & Lee University is ranked No. 15, the University of Richmond is No. 73 and Virginia Military Institute is ranked No. 115.
In a public statement, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell said Virginia's schools "have had a reputation for excellence in higher education dating back to before there was a United States of America."
"I applaud the University of Virginia and the College of William & Mary for this additional recognition as the top public non-service academy colleges in the country for 2012," he said. "Virginia schools recognize that they must continue to improve to remain national leaders in public higher education and it encourages me to see efforts to innovate and enhance the quality of higher education paying off, with both schools improving in their overall national standings."
U.Va. also consistently ranks near the top in the college rankings published by U.S. News & World Report magazine. In 2011, U.Va. ranked No. 25 among all universities and tied for No. 2 with UCLA among public universities. This year's U.S. News rankings will be released in September.
– by McGregor McCance