Students at a popular off-campus bar gather after a day of classes. The University of Florida at Gainesville was ranked No. 1 party school the year after it won national championships in football and basketball.
Students at a popular off-campus bar gather after a day of classes. The University of Florida at Gainesville was ranked No. 1 party school the year after it won national championships in football and basketball. Greg Allen/NPR
The Swamp, a bar and restaurant near the Gainesville campus, is busy on a Monday night — the first day of school.
Top Twenty Party Schools
1 Univ. of Florida in Gainesville
2 Univ. of Mississippi
3 Penn State Univ.
4 West Virginia Univ.
5 Ohio Univ.-Athens
6 Randolph-Macon College
7 Univ. of Georgia
8 Univ. of Texas at Austin
9 Univ. of Cal-Santa Barbara
10 Florida State Univ.
11 Univ. of New Hampshire
12 Univ. of Iowa
13 Univ. of Colorado-Boulder
14 Indiana Univ.-Bloomington
15 Tulane Univ.
16 Univ. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
17 Arizona State Univ. at Tempe
18 Univ. of Tennessee-Knoxville
19 Univ. of Alabama-Tuscaloosa
20 Loyola Univ.-New Orleans
Source: Princeton Review's 2009 Edition: 'Best 368 Colleges'
The University of Florida in Gainesville is a school with many distinctions.
It's one of the nation's largest universities and is usually ranked as one of the top 50 schools in the country.
Recently, it was singled out for another achievement: It was named the nation's No. 1 party school. It's an achievement that University of Florida officials want to put behind them.
Administrators Not Amused
The Swamp, a bar and restaurant near the Gainesville campus, is busy on a Monday night — the first day of school. Outside on the patio, Kelly King is among a crowd of 20 young women. She's there to celebrate a friend's 21st birthday. She doesn't think Gainesville deserves the top party distinction.
"Um, not really," King says. "We like to have a good time, but there are other schools that do it harder than us."
King thinks another Florida school parties more: Florida State.
Most students interviewed in Gainesville seemed surprised that their school had topped the ranking. But the University of Florida is no stranger to the annual list.
Princeton Review is a test prep and educational services company that ranks schools by a variety of criteria. The university has been on its "party school" list every year since it was first compiled 17 years ago.
The ranking is based on student surveys that cover several areas — including the amount of beer, hard liquor and drugs used on campus; hours of study outside of the classroom; and the popularity of fraternities and sororities.
Christina Weininger, a senior from Miami, says it's no coincidence that the school finally hit No. 1 — the year after it won national championships in football and basketball.
"It's ironic, though, because last year they wanted to crack down, is what they said. Our president here really wanted to cut down everything," Weininger says. "But I think it's really kind of ironic that we came back and improved our rating as the top party school."
While University of Florida students are generally amused that their school has hit the pinnacle in collegiate partying, university administrators have a different reaction.
Patricia Telles-Irvin is vice president for student affairs at the University of Florida. She questions the validity of Princeton Review's survey.
"It's unfortunate," Telles-Irvin says. "Yes, we have a very good athletic program, there's no question about that. I also know that our students are very, very smart, so they may not have to study so much. But I also know that it's a self-select population that fills this survey out."
Curbing Alcohol Abuse
University President Bernie Machen shares Telles-Irvin's skepticism. It's hard for him not to take the No. 1 party school ranking personally. Shortly after arriving at the university four years ago, a series of student deaths led him to make it his mission to reduce binge drinking and excessive partying on campus.
The school instituted a campaign to change student behavior and attitudes toward alcohol. All incoming freshmen must now take a course on alcohol awareness. The school banned alcohol ads at campus events and canceled a show on the campus radio station that featured a live drinking segment.
Machen believes those efforts have had a positive impact.
"Fewer students indicate they participate in binge drinking. There are fewer cases referred to the student judicial system for adjudication that have to do with alcohol," Machen says. "And, hopefully this is a positive sign: There are fewer alcohol-related transports to our emergency rooms."
However, the results are uneven. Drunken driving arrests on campus were up last year, and on a campus with more than 50,000 students, fatal traffic accidents related to alcohol use are not uncommon.
Machen seems resigned to his image on campus as something of a party-pooper. An editorial in the school newspaper recently called him a "broken record" for his unrelenting message on alcohol.
He is now overseeing an effort to rewrite and tighten the school's conduct code to clarify infractions and the penalties associated with underage drinking and alcohol abuse.
Machen says his crusade is not for abstinence but to teach students to be responsible in all aspects of their lives — ncluding alcohol.
School's Other Ranking: Top 50 School
As a top 50 school where incoming freshmen have grade point averages of 4.1 and SAT scores average 1300, the University of Florida has a lot to be proud of. But like it or not, Machen says, alcohol and drinking are an inextricable part of student life at the University of Florida.
"Being a small town, all our kids are packed in. They live near each other, they go to school together and they party together," Machen says. "I think that's a wonderful environment in which to go to college. We just want them to be safe and go off and be happy and productive in their lives."