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University Hall at the University of Montana

The University of Montana campus

The tie is broken, and the chest is thumped.

Last year, the University of Montana and Montana State University tied at No. 207 on U.S. News & World Report's list of the best universities in the nation.

Not anymore.

Which campus launched itself forward a few spots? UM. You know, that flagship in Missoula with the smart faculty and committed students and quality programs. #winning.

Which university is No. 1 in Montana? You betcha, Grizzlies.

And which campus is a l-o-s-e-r?

Well, neither of the flagships fell back. But UM careened ahead to No. 201, and MSU crept a couple of spots up to 205 among public and private institutions in the country.

Monday, UM — in a rare display of muscle flexing against another Montana University System campus — announced the rankings with word it had "rocketed past" MSU.

(Outside the flagship rivalry, private Carroll College in Helena ranks No. 1 in the Regional Colleges West category.)

After suffering a persistent enrollment drop, UM has been talking about "changing the narrative." UM vice president for enrollment and strategic communications Cathy Cole agreed Monday the spicier-than-usual characterization in the news release was part of that work.

Plus, the campus wanted to have some fun.

"We're excited that we're being acknowledged by U.S. News & World Report, which is really the publication of record in academia for rankings for our growth in quality," Cole said.

The news release also noted the UM College of Business came in at 127 in the Best Biz School category, up 24 spots, with MSU at 235.

When reached for comment about the way UM propelled itself ahead of its sometimes foe, MSU spokesman Tracy Ellig could be heard over any possible rocket roar. However, he later emailed his remarks.

"Kudos to UM for their rank. We all run with good news when we have it," Ellig said.

MSU does get higher marks for average salaries alumni earn, at $52,300, compared to $43,700 for students from UM, according to U.S. News & World Report data. Of course, MSU also has experienced soaring enrollment.

In a statement, UM Provost Jon Harbor said the recognition did not come as a surprise to him.

"The rankings validate much about the work that is being done in the classroom at the University of Montana," Harbor said. "Our world-class faculty are serving our students as teachers, mentors and coaches, and bringing lessons to life through hands-on and transformational learning opportunities."

Last year, Harbor interviewed at MSU, and he described the home of the Bobcats then as "clearly the university of choice in Montana." Since being hired at UM, though, he has said both campuses are winners and can be "top choice flagship universities."

Harbor has also described UM as a campus "on the rise," and UM did report an uptick in summer enrollment this year along with its catapult in rank in the U.S. News & World Report list. The campus also anticipates retention will be up 1 percent this fall from 2017 once numbers are confirmed.

However, UM has fallen for three years in a row in the Shanghai Ranking, according to the Academic Ranking of World Universities. It measures more than 1,200 universities based on six factors, including articles published and cited and staff winning Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals.

It publishes and ranks the best 500 universities in the world. This year, UM sits just above the 500 mark, having steadily descended from roughly 350 in 2015. It's higher than MSU, though, which is listed this year as hovering between the 601 and 700 mark; however, the Bozeman campus does not appear to have landed on the top 500 list since 2012, according to a graph published with its information.

Ellig said MSU reports data to the Academic Ranking of World Universities, but the staff member who does so was not available Monday.

Regardless, that world ranking might not be key in Montana. Vice President Cole said UM pays more attention to the U.S. News & World Report outcome than other world rankings because families are looking at the national one.

Plus, she said the methodology is sound, and it's been used for decades, unlike the Shanghai Ranking, which has been around since 2009. U.S. News & World Report notes rankings are based on 16 measures of academic quality that education experts consider reliable indicators.

"That is the ranking that everybody really puts their faith in in academia," Cole said.

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University of Montana, higher education