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KNOXVILLE — The University of Tennessee remains in the top third of the country’s national public universities, U.S. News & World Report rankings show.

UT tied with three other institutions for 44th–same as last year–in the 2002 rankings of public national universities. Of the 249 total national institutions ranked, 162 are public universities.

UT officials said Thursday they are pleased with the outcome.

“I’m happy we maintained our position in view of our funding problems,” Acting President Eli Fly said. “I congratulate the faculty and staff for continuing to put academics and students first.”

Provost Loren Crabtree, who came to UT in July from Colorado State University, said the magazine’s annual ratings affirm Tennessee’s place in the higher education system.

“By any measure UT is a major university,” Crabtree said. “It has quality offerings in many fields of study. Students have a lot of choices here.

“Our challenge is to maintain the focus on educational quality, and President Fly recently announced a reallocation plan that will direct more dollars into undergraduate education and other high institutional priorities.”

Tied with UT at 44th among public institutions are Auburn, the University of New Hampshire and the University of Vermont. Other Southeastern universities ranked were Virginia in second place, North Carolina-Chapel Hill fifth, Georgia 18th and Florida 19th.

The magazine reports that UT’s 2000 graduating class had an average of $21,221 in student debt when they received their degrees. That put UT 15th on the national university category. Some 42 percent of UT graduates had student debt.

The magazine’s college guide, which contains rankings of 1,400 schools, goes on sale Sept. 10.