UPDATED 10 p.m. Wednesday.
URBANA — The University of Illinois slipped slightly in overall national rankings, but held steady when compared with other public universities, according to the latest rankings published in U.S. News & World Report.
Meanwhile, engineering edged out other undergraduate engineering programs to rank fifth in the country, up from sixth last year, according to a peer survey. Several of the College of Engineering's programs, including agricultural and civil, claimed top spots.
Not surprisingly, the top-ranked universities in U.S. News & World Report's annual college rankings report were Harvard University and Princeton University, tied at first, followed by Yale, and Columbia University and the University of Chicago share fourth place.
Among Big Ten universities, Northwestern University, which is the only private Big Ten school, placed highest, followed by Michigan and Wisconsin. Illinois and Penn State were fourth among Big Ten schools.
The UI placed 13th among public universities, the same spot it held last year. Two years ago the UI ranked 15th among public universities.
This year the university tied for 46th among national college rankings, sharing the spot with Penn State, the University of Texas-Austin, University of Washington and Yeshiva University in New York. Last year the UI was in a five-way tie for the 45th spot with Penn State, UT-Austin, University of Washington, Yeshiva and the University of California-Irvine. UC-Irvine is now ranked 44th. Two years ago the UI came in 47th in the rankings.
This year the University of Michigan ranks 29th and the University of Wisconsin-Madison came in at 41.
The rankings take into consideration the acceptance rate, average freshman retention rate, graduation rates, classes with under 20 students, SAT/ACT percentiles, alumni giving and more.
The UI's acceptance rate is 68 percent, the student-faculty ratio is 18 to 1, and 34 percent of classes have 20 students or less. Its average freshmen retention rate is 94 percent and the alumni giving rate is 13 percent.
"The important thing to remember about U.S. News rankings is ... some metrics guide our pedagogical decisions and some do not," said Robin Kaler, associate chancellor for public affairs and chief campus spokeswoman.
For example, some of the rankings are calculated by taking into account peer assessment of the university by high school guidance counselors or leaders from other universities.
Over at the College of Engineering, interim Dean Mike Bragg said rankings were "very important" for recruiting reasons.
"They allow us to attract the very best people: faculty and students. We attract students from all over the U.S. and the world. Those students almost always, without exception, have looked at these rankings," he said.
What's notable about rankings, he said, is that schools with top rankings attract the best people, and having the best people helps the school rank highly.
The College of Engineering's undergraduate program ranked fifth alongside the Georgia Institute of Technology this year. Top engineering programs include Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1), Stanford University (2), and California Institute of Technology and UC-Berkeley (tied at 3).
Last year, UI engineering ranked sixth, according to the survey, which is peer-based.
Bragg said he attributes the rise to the college's increased efforts on improving its undergraduate education program, including working on retention of first- and second-year students and adding more of a focus on entrepreneurial classes.
That has meant "focusing more on what students want to accomplish, such as solving problems with water or energy," he said.
In the College of Engineering, both agricultural engineering and civil engineering ranked first, up from the second spot last year. In addition, the engineering physics program and materials science earned spots at No. 2.
Big Ten rankings
How the Big Ten's public universities rank in comparison with other public universities in U.S. News & World Report's 2013 national university rankings:
UniversityNational universitiesPublic universitiesMichigan 294Wisconsin4110Illinois 4613Penn State 4613Ohio State 5618Purdue 6523Minnesota6825Michigan State 7228Iowa 7228Indiana 8336Nebraska 10146