MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Now from college football to another popular college sport: partying.

The University of Florida in Gainesville is usually ranked among the top 50 schools in the country. Recently, though, it was singled out for another distinction - America's number one party school.

As NPR's Greg Allen reports, that's a reputation University of Florida administrators want to put behind them.

GREG ALLEN: It's a Monday night and the first day of school here in Gainesville, but The Swamp, a bar and restaurant just off-campus, is busy. Outside on the patio, Kelly King is one of 20 young women there to celebrate a friend's 21st birthday party.

I asked her about the University of Florida's ranking as the nation's top party school. Justified?

Ms. KELLY KING (Student, University if Florida): Not really. I mean, we like to have a good time, but there are other schools that do it harder than us. But…

ALLEN: Such as?

Ms. KING: The Florida State, for one.

ALLEN: Most students I talked to in Gainesville seemed surprised their school had topped the ranking. But it's not as if the University of Florida is a stranger to the annual list.

Princeton Review is a test prep and educational services company that ranks schools by a variety of criteria. U.F. has been on its party school list every year since it was first compiled 17 years ago.

It's a ranking that's based on student surveys. It covers 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 number one the year after it won national championships in football and basketball.

Ms. CHRISTINA WEININGER (Student, University of Florida): It's ironic, though, because last year they wanted to crack down, is what they said. And our president here really wanted to cut down everything. But I just think it's kind of ironic that we came back and improved our rating as the top party school.

ALLEN: While U.F. students are generally amused that their school has hit the pinnacle in collegiate partying, university administrators have a different reaction.

Ms. PATRICIA TELLES-IRVIN (Vice President for Student Affairs, University of Florida): It's unfortunate.

ALLEN: Patricia Telles-Irvin is vice president for student affairs at the University of Florida. She questions the validity of Princeton Review's survey.

Ms. TELLES-IRVIN: 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 you know, they may not have to study so much. But I also know that it's a self-select population that actually fills this survey out.

ALLEN: University president Bernie Machen shares Telles-Irvin's skepticism. It's hard for him not to take the number one 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 university 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 these efforts have had a positive impact.

Mr. BERNIE MACHEN (President, University of Florida): Fewer students indicate that they participate in binge drinking. There are fewer cases referred to the student judicial system for adjudication that have to do with alcohol. And, hopefully, this is a positive sign. There are fewer alcohol-related transports to our emergency rooms.

ALLEN: However, the results are uneven. Drunk 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 seemed resigned to his image on campus as something of a party-pooper. He's 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, including alcohol. Like it or not, he says, alcohol and drinking are inextricable parts of student life at the University of Florida.

Mr. MACHEN: Kids go away. Being a small town, all of our kids are packed in. They live near each other, they go to school together, and they party together. And 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.

ALLEN: As a top 50 school where incoming freshmen have GPAs of 4.1 and SAT scores average 1,300, the University of Florida has a lot to be proud of.

Now, University officials are working to convince students that some national championships and thousands of their closest friends don't make school a four-year-long cocktail party.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

BLOCK: And you can see a list of the top 20 party schools at our Web site, npr.org.

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