FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — The University of Arkansas has set multiple records in the metrics used for the annual “U.S. News Best Colleges” rankings.

In 2021, for the fourth year in a row, UA set all-time records for its first-year retention rate (87%) and graduation rate (70%), both up two percent from the previous year. The university also continued to close the gap between the expected and actual rate of graduation for its students, according to a press release.

While the difference was once close to double digits, the gap has now been reduced to only 2% (70% graduation rate vs. 72% expected graduation rate) in the latest rankings. 

“The categories that matter to us, those related to our land-grant mission to advance Arkansas, are on a positive upward trend,” said Charles Robinson, interim chancellor. “It’s exciting to see because our work is not finished. We can and will continue to improve in these high-priority categories in the years to come.”

The university also increased its graduation rate for students receiving Pell Grants from 54% to 55%, but this is an area the university has identified as a target for improvement moving forward. 

“Students with the lowest degree of financial security are also the most likely not to complete their education, so we have to do more to support their success,” Robinson said. “That’s a big part of our land-grant responsibility — to not only provide students from Arkansas access to higher education, but also to provide the resources needed to help them graduate and launch successful careers.” 

Earlier this year, the university announced $1 million in additional scholarship funding dedicated to students from Arkansas. Combined with a previous $5 million increase in scholarship funding devoted solely to in-state students, the university has grown scholarship funding for Arkansas students by $6 million since 2019.

These increases in scholarship funds, in addition to the tuition partnership with UA community colleges through the Arkansas Transitions Academic Program, are providing “much-needed support to help students from every corner of the state afford to pursue a world-class education, making the U of A an attractive destination.”

Preliminary enrollment numbers for the fall 2022 semester confirm new university records for students from the state of Arkansas (15,479) and students from Arkansas in the freshman class (2,835) as well as a record for total enrollment, topping 30,000 students for the first time. While the university showed improvement in other categories used by U.S. News, including increasing faculty salaries, the fact that the number of UA classes with fewer than 20 students decreased by 9.2% hurt the university in the rankings. 

The university also lost ground in student selectivity, a metric that is not part of the land-grant mission at most public universities in this designation, which are working to grant greater access to students in their state.

“Accessibility and student success expressed through retention and graduation rates are very important to the University of Arkansas,” said Suzanne McCray, vice provost for enrollment and dean of admissions. “And we’re setting records in those areas.” 

In addition, the university’s record incoming class of more than 7,000 also set a record for the highest GPA for new degree-seeking freshmen at 3.77.

Out of 234 institutions ranked as Top Public Schools by U.S. News, including more than 50 institutions being added to the category in the latest ranking, UA is tied for 87th with four other public institutions, including Louisiana State University. UA joined six others in a tie for 78th among national public schools in the previous rankings.

Several university programs were also ranked among the nation’s best including undergraduate business, which tied for 39th with several others including the University of Alabama, University of South Carolina and the University of Tennessee. The Supply Chain Management program in the Sam M. Walton College of Business tied for 10th in the nation with Georgia Tech.

The full rankings of this year’s U.S. News Best Colleges can be found here.