SARASOTA -- An education-services company has ranked New College of Florida second in the nation for providing "best value" to its students.
The Princeton Review's 2014 ranking is based on data collected from schools and students from fall 2012 to fall 2013. The national education company rated 650 schools based on 30 factors, including financial aid, cost of attendance, admissions and academics.
The Review then narrowed the schools to 150 -- 75 public and 75 private.
New College of Florida placed second among the chosen 75 U.S. public universities in the "best value" ranking. This marks the third time the school has placed second in this ranking, first winning the title in 2009 and then in 2011. New College of Florida ranked third in the same category in 2010, 2012 and 2013.
Stephen Miles, New College of Florida provost and vice president for academic affairs, said The Prince
ton Review's "best value" ranking is based on tuition as well as on the quality of education.
"It's not just about the price," Miles said. "It's about what students receive for that price. At New College, we run a very demanding program."
New College was bested by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the 2014 ranking. The only other Florida university to make the Top 10 was the University of Florida, which placed seventh.
The Princeton Review is based in the United States but services students internationally through standardized test preparation and college admissions consulting. The company annually ranks universities in different categories -- including "best party schools."
Founded in 1960, New College of Florida is an independent honors college that strives to break away from the focus on grades and credit hours. The school gives students "the room to explore different fields and find their voice," said Miles.
While it is a public school, and funded by the state, statutes have been approved to allow New College to run its independent curriculum and academic style. The school, for example, does not award traditional letter grades at the end of the semester, but professors provide students with a narrative detailing their performance.
"Students progress when they get more information about their performance. A letter grade just shows an area where you fall," said Miles.
At New College of Florida, students often combine unrelated areas of study such as biology and literature.
Freshman Justin Williams wants to study English literature and film. Through an independent study program, he gets the time and encouragement to explore another area: wildlife.
Each student at New College is required to do three independent study programs during their time at the four-year college.
Williams, originally from Tampa, volunteers at the nonprofit Save Our Seabirds Wild Bird Learning Center where he cleans bird cages, prepares their food and takes care of newborn birds.
"New College really encourages community involvement, not just involvement in your classroom education," said Williams.
When considering schools, Williams chose New College of Florida for two reasons: small class sizes and low tuition.
The school boasts a 10-to-1 professor-student ratio, and its enrollment tops 800.
"All my professors know me by my first name, and that's something I wouldn't have gotten at a school like USF," said Williams, referring to the University of South Florida.
According to The Princeton Review, New College's annual tuition is about $16,600 for in-state students and nearly $40,000 for out-of-state students. That is roughly equal to tuition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where in-state tuition is about $18,000 and out-of-state tuition is also $40,000.