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Sep 22, 2014 03:15 AM EDT

Elon University topped the list of the best southern American Universities by US News. The private Liberal Arts University has excelled in the categories of academic programs, teaching and affordability.

"The U.S. News rankings are a good measure of the success Elon has achieved in providing students with the experiences and global perspectives they will need to make a difference in our world," Elon President Leo M. Lambert said in a statement. "We are especially gratified that leaders in higher education across the country give Elon top marks for our high-impact academic programs."

The list of top southern American Universities is based on factors including peer assessment, freshman retention rate, 2013 graduation rate, percentage of classes with fewer than 20 students, percentage of classes with 50 or more students, student-faculty ratio, SAT and ACT scores in the 25th to 75th percentile, freshmen in the top 25 percent of their high school classes, acceptance rate and average alumni giving rate.

Elon is followed by Rollins College in second place. The school has 68.8 percent of its classes with fewer than 20 students, and the student-faculty ratio is 10:1. Rollins is known for offering a wide variety of undergraduate and master level programs.

It was tied with Elon in the 2013 annual rankings at the top spot.

"An external acknowledgment of quality is a welcome validation of our dedication to offering our students the best educational experience," said Rollins President Lewis Duncan in a statement, last year. "We are committed to engaged learning in small classes, where faculty are not just lecturers, but true partners in their students' education."

At No: 3 is the Samford University. The largest private University in Alabama has been performing consistently in the rankings as it was ranked third in last year's list.

"While this ranking is only one indicator of Samford's progress, I am pleased with the news," Samford President Andrew Westmoreland said in a statement. "Many people in the Samford community contribute to this success, but we also continue to strongly believe that our best measures of progress are in the accomplishments of our students, faculty and alumni."

Colleges and Universities | FindTheBest

Top 10 South American Universities

1 - Elon Universities

2 - Rollins College

3 - Samford University

4 - The Citadel

5 - Belmont University

6 - James Madison University

6 - Stetson University

8 - Mercer University

9 - Appalachian State University

10 - Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

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