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For the third straight year, LSU is ranked in the first tier for “Best National Universities” in U.S. News & World Report’s 2011 edition of America’s Best Colleges.

“We are pleased to once again be ranked in the top tier of America’s Best Colleges by U.S. News & World Report,” said LSU Chancellor Michael Martin. “Despite the budget crisis we are facing, LSU has stood out among its peers and has been recognized as one of the top institutions in the country. I commend our faculty, staff and students for their hard work during this tough time by continuing to strive for excellence every day in every way.”

In the 2011 edition of America’s Best Colleges, LSU ranks 124th overall and 60th when compared to public universities only. LSU is the only public university in Louisiana ranked in the top tier. In the overall rankings, LSU is tied at 124th with four other schools, two public – Colorado State University and Ohio University – and two private – Clarkson University (N.Y.) and University of St. Thomas (Minn.).

The National Universities category consists of the 262 institutions (164 public and 98 private) that offer a wide range of undergraduate majors, as well as master’s and doctoral degrees. This year, there are 197 schools listed in the top tier. LSU is ranked ahead of Southeastern Conference peers the University of Kentucky, University of Arkansas, University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University.

In the past three years, LSU has moved up in the rankings from 130th in 2008 to 128th in 2009 to 124th this year. The university has also seen its overall score improve from 32 in 2008 to 33 in 2009 to 37 in 2010. During this time, LSU improved in a number of areas that U.S. News & World Report’s rankings take into consideration, including graduation rate, which has risen from 59.8 percent in 2007 to 60.7 in 2009, and incoming freshmen ACT scores, which have increased from 25.3 in 2007 to 25.5 in 2009.

“This is a wonderful affirmation of the hard work of our students, faculty and staff,” said LSU Provost & Executive Vice Chancellor John Maxwell Hamilton. “But, it doesn’t take recent budget cuts into account. We may be in the top tier for now, but as LSU’s funding continues to wither, we may not be there for long.”

According to U.S. News & World Report, the indicators used to capture academic quality of universities are peer assessment, graduation and retention rates, faculty resources, student selectivity, financial resources, alumni giving and, for National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges, “graduation rate performance” and high school counselor ratings of colleges.

U.S. News & World Report has made some changes to the 2011 Best Colleges’ ranking methodology and presentation. One of the most significant changes this year is the ranking of more schools. In the past, the top 50 percent of schools were ranked in each category. This year, U.S. News & World Report ranked the top 75 percent.

In addition, graduation rate performance is more heavily weighed this year, and high school counselor surveys are factored into ranking calculations. Peer ratings – surveys of college presidents, provosts and deans – have gone down to 15 percent of the overall score from 25 percent, and high school counselors surveyed get a weight of 7.5 percent. These combined create the new “Undergraduate Academic Reputation Index,” in which LSU scores 62 out of 100.

Over the past two decades, the U.S. News & World Report college rankings, which group schools based on categories created by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, has grown to be the most comprehensive research tool for students and parents considering higher education opportunities.

Highlights of the college rankings will be published in the September issue of U.S. News & World Report, available on newsstands Aug. 31. The 2011 Best Colleges guidebook will be on newsstands Aug. 24.