Colleges & Campus News

UCF Ranks Among the Nation’s Top 10 Most Innovative Universities

U.S. News & World Report ranks UCF above Harvard, Princeton, Duke and Johns Hopkins as most innovative in its annual list of best colleges.

By Laura J. Cole |
September 10, 2018

As one of the biggest and most innovative universities in the United States, the University of Central Florida opens doors to the knowledge and skills necessary for full participation in the 21st-century economy and culture while also serving as a launchpad for research that will reshape the way people design, explore, heal, teach and communicate. (Photo by Josh Letchworth)

For the second year in a row, the University of Central Florida was named among the “most innovative schools” in the nation, recognizing the university’s groundbreaking approach to higher education.

“UCF is defining what it means to be a 21st-century university committed to fueling the talent, ideas and innovation that will drive our community and state forward.”

The list, released today by U.S. News & World Report, includes only 58 universities out of the nearly 1,400 institutions that are ranked annually on a variety of metrics as part of the news magazine’s Best Colleges guide.

UCF has been named three times in this category since it was introduced in 2015, jumping from No. 25 last year to No. 10 this year, above Duke and Johns Hopkins universities and Ivy League schools such as Harvard and Princeton. It is the only school in Florida to be included in the Top 25 of the list that ranks schools based on “innovative improvements in terms of curriculum, faculty, students, campus life, technology or facilities.”

“UCF is defining what it means to be a 21st-century university committed to fueling the talent, ideas and innovation that will drive our community and state forward,” says President Dale Whittaker. “We have a unique opportunity to serve more students as a national model for academic excellence, inclusion and affordability.”

The Best Colleges 2019 guide also included UCF in the following categories:

  • No. 33 for least amount of student debt load at graduation in the nation
  • No. 34 Best Undergraduate Teaching
  • No. 80 Best Undergraduate Engineering Program
  • No. 87 Best Public University
  • No. 165 Best National University
  • “A+ Schools for B Students”

Earlier this year, U.S. News ranked UCF in the Top 20 for online undergraduate programs, No. 13 for online undergraduate programs for veterans, and 25 UCF graduate programs were included in their Top 100 Best Graduate Schools.

More recently, Washington Monthly ranked UCF No. 45 among public universities in the nation, and Forbes ranked UCF No. 88 among public universities in their 2018 America’s Top Colleges. In addition, the Princeton Review ranked UCF Student Health Services at No. 15 nationally.

After visiting campus last fall, Bill Gates praised UCF for being a pioneer in creating greater access to low-cost, high-quality education with a focus on student success. (Photo by Nick Leyva ’15)

Innovative Approaches to Reaching More Students at Lower Costs

U.S. News isn’t the only one recognizing the groundbreaking work happening at UCF.

“Conventional wisdom in higher education dictates that bigger is not better. … UCF is challenging this storyline by proving that a university can have it all: a large, diverse student population, high standards and affordable tuition.”

UCF is among the universities that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is looking at as examples of what the future of higher education should look like.

Last October, the Gateses visited campus, and in May, Bill Gates wrote on his blog, “Conventional wisdom in higher education dictates that bigger is not better. … UCF is challenging this storyline by proving that a university can have it all: a large, diverse student population, high standards and affordable tuition.”

He cited UCF’s success in tripling the size of the student body since 1992 while also “reducing costs, boosting its graduate rate and expanding access for low-income and first-generation students.” UCF graduates more than 15,000 students a year, and this fall, enrollment reached more than 68,500 and this year’s freshman class had an average GPA of 4.11.

The cost for attending UCF is $6,368 per year for in-state residents, well below the national average for in-state tuition at public universities, which is $8,804. And half of UCF students graduate with zero debt.

One of the innovative ways UCF has found to reach more students is through DirectConnect to UCF. A national model, this program has enabled more than 46,000 students to earn UCF bachelor’s degrees, expanding opportunities for students, particularly those from underrepresented groups, to earn high-quality, four-year degrees. UCF guarantees admission to graduates of six area state colleges and embeds advisors on the state college campuses to help students make a smooth transition to the university.

UCF Online affords students highly flexible learning opportunities that allow them to meet educational, family and work responsibilities on their own terms. (Photo by Scott Cook)

Innovation in Learning

Eschewing the one-size-fits-all approach to learning, UCF is committed to providing an education that best suits students’ needs. In addition to traditional classroom learning, the university is focused on digital and adaptive learning to ensure students success.

“The online learning tools [UCF] has developed have helped make teaching and learning smarter.”

“The online learning tools [UCF] has developed have helped make teaching and learning smarter,” Gates wrote.

More than 80 percent of UCF students take at least one online or blended course as part of their regular curriculum or are fully enrolled through UCF Online. Twenty years of UCF’s data confirm that adding digital learning to a student’s mix of classes reduces the time needed to earn a degree. On average, students who take 40 to 60 percent of their courses online graduate in less than four years, compared to 4.3 years for those who take only traditional, face-to-face courses. That also means lower overall tuition bills.

To make sure quality remains high whether students take courses online or in person, UCF provides 80 hours of professional development with an instructional designer for faculty members who want to build online courses. The university also provides 35 hours of training for faculty who want to teach existing online courses.

In addition to courses being offered online for students’ convenience, teachers such as associate lecturer Tammy Muhs are leveraging technology to ensure each student is provided the best opportunity to succeed. Through an approach called adaptive learning, students move ahead at their own pace.

“It’s like each student has a customized textbook that is constantly being rewritten just for them,” Melinda Gates wrote in a post. “Even in a class of hundreds, [Muhs] knows exactly who is off-track by the first week of the semester.”

Ultimately, both digital and adaptive learning can accelerate the path to a degree and save students money.

Scheduled to open in Fall 2019, UCF Downtown will ensure new pathways to higher education in Central Florida and will be the intellectual anchor of Creative Village, an innovative mix of higher education institutions, high-tech companies, startups and housing for those who will work, study and play there. (Photo by Nick Leyva ’15)

Innovation in Locations

Three new initiatives will benefit both students and the community. UCF Downtown, UCF Lake Nona Medical Center and UCF Lake Nona Cancer Center will provide new spaces for students to learn while gaining real-world experience.

“Our growing presence at Lake Nona Medical City and in the heart of downtown Orlando will demonstrate how universities and their community partners can drive economic and social transformation in the 21st century.”

“UCF has embraced the power of place-based innovation clusters that offer impactful new learning experiences for our students, and expanded research opportunities for our faculty,” says Thad Seymour, UCF’s vice president of partnerships and chief innovation officer. “Our growing presence at Lake Nona Medical City and in the heart of downtown Orlando will demonstrate how universities and their community partners can drive economic and social transformation in the 21st century.”

In partnership with Valencia College, UCF Downtown will draw 7,700 students to live, learn and work in downtown Orlando. It will also increase opportunities for service-learning, internships and employment in programs that thrive in an urban environment, such as legal studies, communication, digital media and public administration. The campus is scheduled to open in Fall 2019.

Both UCF Lake Nona Medical Center, the new university hospital, and UCF Lake Nona Cancer Center, a comprehensive cancer treatment and research facility, will provide state-of-the-art medical facilities, where students and researchers can study, learn and conduct potentially life-saving clinical trials alongside the patients they’re treating.

“Already, Lake Nona Medical City is hailed as an innovative hub of medical research, treatment, education and collaboration,” Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs said in an announcement about the new cancer center. “Not only will this agreement further strengthen our life sciences and medical innovation cluster, it supports UCF in their vision to offer a one-stop, comprehensive medical education and research center that will provide cutting-edge treatment for patients, as well as clinical trials and dedicated scientists whose work could yield the advanced treatments needed to someday conquer cancer. In addition to the significant benefit of expanded access for local residents to world-class medical care, the sale of the former Sanford Burnham Prebys building also provides a financial return on investment to taxpayers.”