So close, yet so far.
On the race to Top 25 status, UT has hit a speed bump.
Tuesday, UT was named 47th in the U.S. News and World Report's 2014 public university rankings, one spot down from last year.
Despite this setback, Chancellor Jimmy Cheek remains optimistic about UT's future.
"We did go from 46 to 47, but that's a very slight move," Cheek said. "Our trajectory is very positive at the university, and I think that's the real message."
Using a set of metrics determined by U.S. News and World Reports, top administrators from each university place institutions into the appropriate order.
Both Cheek and Margie Nichols, vice chancellor of communications, defended UT's ranking.
"There are three people who vote on it: the president or chancellor of the university, the provost and the admissions director," Nichols said. "There are a lot of universities in there that you may not know anything about, and you're supposed to vote on them."
Whereas Nichols questioned the ranking process itself, Cheek emphasized how ambitious the Top 25 goal really is, pitting UT against tough competitors.
"The reason we chose the Top 25 is that it's a pretty good consensus that those are about the best universities in the country. If you benchmark yourself against them, that's a pretty high benchmark," Cheek said. "It would have been much easier for us to say, 'Let's take the universities in the South and benchmark ourselves against them.'"
The 2014 rankings heavily considered each school's graduation and retention rates, possibly lowering UT's score. Yet, the university has recently undergone small improvements in both statistics.
"Today, our students are in the Top 25," Cheek said. "The two things that we measure at the undergraduate level – graduation rate and retention rate – aren't there. What does that say? (There is) something we're not doing right here. Our goal is to get to at least 75 percent."
Because of the criteria's limited scope, Cheek feels that the number given is not necessarily indicative of an institution's overall quality.
"When we put together the Top 25, we said we want to be a Top 25 public research university. That means that we're not only concerned with undergraduates, but we're concerned about graduate students," Cheek said. "So, we're competing on a whole variety of fronts. U.S. News and World Report only focuses on undergraduate education"
Still, Cheek expressed his confidence in reaching the coveted Top 25 slot.
"If we can move student retention and graduation rates at the rate we've been moving, we can make it by 2020," he said. "But we have to continue to put pressure on moving those two statistics every year."
Student Government Association president Jake Baker also feels that UT is making meaningful progress toward this goal, however distant it may seem now.
"I think the important thing to realize is that we are not the only school with a Top 25 initiative," Baker said. "This drop does not mean that UT has gotten worse, it just means that other schools are getting better at a quicker rate."
Although UT as an institution fell in the rankings, individual academic programs were given high marks. According to the report, UT's undergraduate program was placed 27th among public universities. The supply chain management and logistics specialty ranked sixth in the nation.
For more information on UT's rankings and the Top 25 initiative, click here.