Audacity has been a defining characteristic of USC, and one of the many reasons for our rapid ascent. But equally important has been daring to transform our university – to honor, embrace, and learn from our past, but not let the past constrain or restrain us. If we are to lead in the 21st century, we must apply the same combination of creativity and commitment embodied by our students, scholars, artists, and athletes. As we invent the future, we must simultaneously reinvent ourselves.
Reimagining a University Education
Our rapidly changing world demands new mindsets and new complements of skills and talents. To meet the challenges of the 21st century, university graduates across all disciplines, and all degree types, will need to work in teams with those who are differently trained and differently situated. They will need to be equipped with literacies and the competencies necessary for a high-tech, digital, and connected world. They will need to judge the validity, relevance, and reliability of the massive amounts of information to which they have access, as well as how to organize and deploy those data effectively. They will need to develop the fluency to communicate with many audiences using multiple means, and to be translators across disciplines, cultures, and languages. And they must be eager to lead in both public and private spheres – through elected office, military and community service, nonprofit work, and private philanthropy. They will need to understand that values are as important as vocation, and that the path to a meaningful life is less about the what and the how provided by science and technology, and more about the why provided by an embrace of the arts and the humanities.
USC has long directed its entrepreneurial spirit to revolutionize pedagogy, whether it was creating the first schools of International Relations or Gerontology, or establishing the first distance learning programs. The university has continued this up to the present day with innovative programs such as the Viterbi iPodia program, the Marshall World Bachelor of Business, the Sidney Harman Academy for Polymathic Study, and many others.
In the coming years, USC will lead the national discussion on the value of the liberal arts and how best to connect them to the challenges of the 21st century. We will infuse crucial literacies – informational, numerical, visual, and digital, among others – across our curriculum. We will establish programs in the arts and the humanities that bring together scholars and practitioners in ways that embrace the mindsets of inclusion, convergence, and entrepreneurship, engage Los Angeles, and broaden the career opportunities traditional to those disciplines, and we will continue to evolve our General Education program to incorporate concepts of entrepreneurship, inclusion, convergence, and impact. We will launch interschool, inter-professional programs. We will continue to invent and deploy new technologies in the classroom and online. We will reaffirm the importance of teaching and mentorship in the context of a research university and we will put into place the systems necessary to train, assess, and reward exceptional teaching.
Reimagining Access and Opportunity
All global universities are committed to principles of diversity and recognize the importance of cultural engagement. However, that is not enough. Nor is it enough for universities to open their doors and welcome a range of students with diverse backgrounds. Leading universities will be those that commit to fully embracing access and opportunity; that is, actively seeking out different voices, building a rich cadre of diverse students, and providing all learners with the resources, financial and otherwise, to succeed.
Among research universities, USC has long been a leader in providing educational access and opportunity to distinct voices, both at USC and elsewhere. USC students created the Topping Scholars Program, begun in the 1970s and continuing to this day, by voting to have a portion of their yearly fees fund scholarships to diversify USC’s student body. Every year, USC welcomes more than 800 community college transfer students to USC. More recently, USC has created the Bovard Scholars College Preparatory Summer Program, the USC Pre-College Summer Scholarship for Military High School Students, and has been the only California outpost for the Warrior Scholar Project. In addition, we are proud that Foshay Learning Center, located less than one mile from our University Park Campus but a world apart from what many associate with elite private education, is USC’s top feeder school for freshman for the second year in a row. In addition, over 3,000 underserved local schoolchildren participate annually in USC TRiO college access programs and in preschool Head Start programs. And, for creating one of the most high-impact college access programs in the country, USC has been rightly hailed for its Neighborhood Academic Initiative (NAI), a seven-year college preparatory program for students from South and East Los Angeles. Since its first graduating class in 1997, nearly 1,000 students have completed the program with nearly 100 percent college enrollment and 83 percent enrollment at four-year universities, including 35 percent enrollment at USC.
In the coming years, we will leverage our expertise in supporting diversity and undergraduate college access to ease the path to postgraduate studies, and to postdoctoral, residency, and fellowship programs. We will invest in programs that recruit and sustain senior underrepresented faculty leaders and cohorts of underrepresented junior faculty, and invest in current underrepresented senior faculty. We will prioritize identifying resources that will allow us to expand our NAI program, increase the number of scholarships to attract distinct voices to USC, and help us provide experiential parity for all USC students, so that financial considerations never limit a student’s ability to have a rich college experience. We will create training programs and boot camps that help diversify the student body in particular areas, especially the STEM fields. And we will use online technologies to reach unique populations of postgraduate learners, enrich lifelong learning for our Trojan Family and others, and respond to urgent workforce needs.
Nearly two-thirds of USC’s undergraduates receive significant support made possible by a financial aid budget that includes more than $300 million in USC’s own contribution.
Higher education has been one of the most reliable paths to a prosperous life. The economic advantages of obtaining a bachelor’s or advanced degree are well documented. Most recently, there has been much discussion of whether this is still true, and whether the higher education path is worth the investment. Much of this discussion centers around the cost of higher education, but the cost of getting a degree must be balanced with the value that the degree provides to individuals and to society.
USC has been a leader among private research universities in attending to both affordability and value. Nearly two-thirds of USC’s undergraduates receive significant support made possible by a financial aid budget that includes more than $300 million in USC’s own contribution, the vast majority need-based. Programs like Mork Family Scholars, Martens Scholars, and the George Lucas Foundation Endowed Student Support Fund for Diversity strengthen support for our students and diversify our student body. In terms of providing value, at the most fundamental level, we have ensured that our undergraduates get their degrees, with a six-year graduation rate of 92 percent. We have also created a high-touch experience for students through low student-to-faculty ratios, senior faculty engagement in undergraduate education, including in our General Education program, robust internships and externships, and opportunities for students to work side-by-side with faculty in producing new knowledge and creative works.
In the coming years, we will redouble our efforts to secure scholarships for students at all levels: undergraduate, graduate and professional. We will expand efforts to increase the four-year undergraduate graduation rate. We will undertake comprehensive and recurring evaluation of our operations, in order to find efficiencies that improve performance and reduce costs. We will establish curricular options for undergraduate students that will broaden their postbaccalaureate educational choices. We will implement new internship programs and expand career services support. We will invest in programs to improve student health and wellness, and to support disability services. And, we will better leverage our Trojan networks to support current and future students.
Reimagining the Undergraduate Experience
Universities and colleges have both the privilege and responsibility of transforming young people, just six years out of sixth grade, into engaged adults who leave enriched and eager to lead meaningful lives. Creating an institution that can do this well is challenging. Large research universities are the innovation engines that will transform society, but they often fail to focus on undergraduate students; liberal arts colleges are tremendous in their focus on undergraduates, but often lack the vast resources and expertise to allow students to engage fully in knowledge production, innovation, and creative expression.
USC has not shied away from this challenge. Indeed, our central mission has long been “the development of human beings and society as a whole through the cultivation and enrichment of the human mind and spirit.” As members of a highly international student body and through our programs, USC students begin to appreciate the breadth and variety of the universe around them, and the many issues confronting us in the 21st century. Through traditional study abroad programs and unique experiences such as “Maymester” and “Problems Without Passports,” our students have multiple opportunities to expand their worldview. Through Visions and Voices, the Fisher Museum of Art, and the Pacific Asia Museum, our students draw upon arts and humanities programming to put their lives into context. Through participation in physical education programs and intramural sports, and through our highly popular USC Mindfulness program, our students learn to care for their bodies and their minds. And through programs like the Joint Educational Project and other outreach programs, our students learn the value of giving back.
And now, with the completion of the $700 million USC Village project, we are presented with a historic opportunity to transform the undergraduate experience. The opening of USC Village allows USC to commit fully to a residential college experience for undergraduates. Spearheaded by the founding of our new Kathleen L. McCarthy Honors College, our residential colleges will be the nest from which our students fledge, spread their wings, and launch into the world. Led by residential faculty, a cadre of faculty fellows, and Student Affairs, we will pursue four objectives: cultivating the life of the mind, the life of the body, and a life of service, and fostering a sense of belonging. We will provide countless opportunities for screenings, recitals, speakers, performances, symposia, new courses, exhibitions, panels, and more. We will serve as gateways to explore the cultural and arts landscape of Los Angeles, not as tourists but as young citizens eager to learn, contribute to, and serve society. And, most importantly, we will use the residential colleges as the training ground for the ideals put forth in this strategic plan: developing ethical human beings imbued with entrepreneurial, inclusive, and convergent spirits, ready to impact the world, and fully prepared to engage the challenges and opportunities life brings through their USC experience.