Updated: Four local colleges recognized in national ‘Best Colleges’ guide

A young man smiles during freshmen move-in day in 2011 at UNC Asheville. The institution maintained its ranking as seventh best public liberal arts school in the nation this year, according to the 2014 Best Colleges guide published by U.S. News & World Report today. (Photo by Caitlin Byrd)

Four liberal arts colleges in the mountains of western North Carolina made the grade in this year’s “Best Colleges” guide by U.S. News & World Report.

Published today, the annual report showed UNC Asheville maintained its position as the seventh best public liberal arts college in the nation, while private liberal arts schools Brevard College and Mars Hill University received recognition as one of the best national liberal arts colleges and one of the South’s best colleges, respectively. Warren Wilson College was also recognized as a top national liberal arts college, and was specifically recognized as having one of the nation’s leading service programs for the seventh time.

The U.S. News & World Report rankings are among several accolades UNCA has recently received. In August, Forbes magazine ranked UNC Asheville 20th in the nation on its “Top Colleges 2013: Best Value Colleges” roster. In that same month, The Princeton Review noted the “top-notch academic experience” that UNC Asheville students receive and ranked the university 13th nationally on its “Town-Gown Relations are Great” list.

This year, Mars Hill improved it ranking by one when it tied with Aquinas College, Barton College and North Greenville University for 30th among the top 100 regional colleges in the South. Last year, Mars Hill ranked 31st among regional colleges in the South. Two years ago, the private school ranked 35th on that same listing.

President Dan Lunsford said he sees the university’s improved ranking as an external affirmation of recent changes and progress on the campus in recent months and years. For example, after being known as Mars Hill College for nearly 160 years, the higher-education institution changed its name to Mars Hill University this year.

“Those of us who are part of the university have experienced the enthusiasm of our continuing evolution into the university era, and we have anecdotal as well as statistical evidence of growth and improvement on several fronts,” Lunsford said in a statement. “Some of those areas, such as freshman retention and graduation rates – figure prominently into the U.S. News assessment. This is a period of growth for Mars Hill that I firmly believe will continue, and will continue to be reflected in this and other measures of our success.”

Two other private colleges in North Carolina took the top spots for regional colleges in the South. High Point University earned the No. 1 ranking for regional colleges in the South while Merideth College tied for No. 2 with John Brown University.

Though Brevard College did not have a numerical ranking for its accolade as one of the best liberal arts colleges in the country, Brevard College President David Joyce still calls the recognition from the guide “gratifying.”

“We still feel that the best way to assess whether the benefits of any college is for families to do their own research. We invite prospective students to come explore our campus, meet with our admissions staff and faculty and learn more about an experiential education at Brevard College,” Joyce said in a statement.

Warren Wilson’s pioneering service program was established more than 50 years ago. According to a statement from Warren Wilson, the college’s 850 or so undergraduate students have given nearly 50,000 hours of service to community annually in recent years.

Warren Wilson is one of only 25 colleges and universities nationwide listed alphabetically in the Service Learning category of “Programs to Look For” in choosing a school – programs with “A Focus on Student Success,” according to U.S. News.

This year’s Best Colleges Rankings from U.S. News & World Report offers data on nearly 1,800 colleges and universities, including tuition, acceptance rates, class sizes, graduation rates, average debt of graduates and more. Eligible schools are ranked on up to 16 different factors, each weighted for importance.

U.S. News & World Report ranked 247 liberal arts colleges, 220 private and 27 public, in its survey. For the 2014 rankings, the magazine adjusted the relative weight of certain factors, but continued to base its evaluation on academic reputation, graduation and retention rates, commitment to instruction and class size, student abilities and admissions selectivity, college financial resources and alumni financial support.

Caitlin Byrd can be reached at cbyrd@mountainx.com or 251-1333, ext. 140.


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