COSTA MESA — Vanguard University, a faith-based college in Costa Mesa, made the top 10 in the Best of the West Regional Category of Best Baccalaureate programs, according to Princeton Review's recently released annual rankings.

The No. 9 ranking came while the Christian university had been fighting a negative stigma of having been sanctioned by the Western Assn. of Schools and Colleges last year. The reason for the sanction was that the university lacked solid financial stability and governance, according to Vanguard University President Carol Taylor.

The sanction, which was levied against the 2,000-student college in June 2009, was removed in June this year, Taylor said.

"The Western Assn. of Schools and Colleges Commission took action to continue Vanguard's accreditation but to place the university on probation, reflecting that the university was out of compliance with elements … related to fiscal sustainability and effective governance," Taylor said. "In June this year, however, after a special site team visit, the WASC Commission took action to remove that sanction and described the university's progress as 'phenomenal,' recognizing the university's actions as 'leading to a significant institutional turnaround.'"

A new board of directors replaced the former board, and this weekend they are going on their first retreat, where they will contemplate the future of the university, officials said.

According to the Princeton Review, which reviews colleges and universities across the country each year, Vanguard had strong academic programs combined with a strong sense of community — factors that contributed to a high ranking.

Taylor said she was pleased with the status the university garnered from the Princeton Review, and said that much of the ranking was gleaned from interviews with students who live on campus, many of whom, when approached by Princeton Review, spoke highly of their college.

"It's common to go to the cafeteria and see faculty eating with students and spending time with them," Taylor said.

Also, the university, which will be celebrating the 90th year since its founding this year, also has a philosophy of getting students to participate in community outreach, a requirement of the curriculum.

For example, every September students, on a particular pre-designated Saturday, make a point to help out in the community, whether it's working for nonprofit groups like Habitat for Humanity or the Orange County Rescue Mission.

"It's more than just sitting in the classroom," Taylor said. "We seem to attract students who want to make a difference."

Other academic programs that Taylor was proud of included music, psychology, business, education, religion and theater programs.

Also in the Princeton Review's top 10 for the same category was the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. (No. 1); Master's College in Santa Clarita and Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee, Okla., (Tie, No. 2) ; California Maritime Academy in Vallejo (No. 4); Corban University in Salem, Ore., (No. 5); Oklahoma Wesleyan University in Bartlesville, Okla. (No. 6); Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Mont., and the Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls, Ore., (Tie, No. 7) ; and Pacific Union College in Angwin, Calif. (No. 10).