In an effort to widen access for more middle and low-income students, USC announced Thursday it will eliminate tuition for families earning $80,000 or less annually and will no longer consider home equity in financial aid calculations.
The new policies announced by USC President Carol Folt will place the private campus on par with the public University of California system, long known as a national leader in generous financial aid policies and high numbers of low-income students.
While other elite private universities, such as Harvard and Stanford, provide tuition-free educations to families earning as much as $150,000 annually, their endowments are far larger. Harvard’s endowment is $40.9 billion and Stanford’s is $27.7 billion, compared to USC’s $5.7 billion, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“We’re opening the door wider to make a USC education possible for talented students from all walks of life,” said Folt, who has made access and affordability a key priority since her inauguration in the fall.
“This significant step we are taking today is by no means the end of our affordability journey. We are committed to increasing USC’s population of innovators, leaders and creators regardless of their financial circumstances. Investing in the talent and diversity of our student body is essential to our educational mission.”
Eliminating home equity as a factor in financial aid calculations, which Stanford also removed for the current academic year, would make a significant difference for many Californians whose home values have skyrocketed over time, but whose incomes have not increased at the same pace.
Folt told The Times she was concerned about access to USC for such families. She said families work hard to own a home and then find out in the financial aid process that their “home might be the piece inhibiting their ability to put their kids through school.”
“That just felt wrong,” she told The Times.
The new policies will be phased in with first-year students enrolling in fall 2020 and spring 2021. USC anticipates that about one-third of the fall 2020 and spring 2021 entering class will benefit from the increase in financial assistance.
As part of the new expansion, USC will increase undergraduate aid by more than $30 million annually, allowing the university to provide stronger financial assistance to more than 4,000 students every year once fully implemented.
Eligible students will receive up to $45,000 more aid during their undergraduate studies.
The university has expanded need-based grant funding by more than 60% since 2010, far exceeding the rate of tuition increases. Two-thirds of USC undergraduates receive some form of financial aid, and more than 21% of undergraduates come from low-income families, according to the university.
“USC is committed to educating the strongest minds, independent of background or ability to pay,” Provost Charles Zukoski said. “For decades, USC has invested in this commitment.
“With this new initiative, we will be even better positioned to recruit students from all backgrounds and strengthen the USC experience for everyone.”
The cost of a private college education has reached staggering heights for many families, The Times noted.
At USC, the total cost of attendance for 2019-20, including housing, food, books and materials, is $77,459, with tuition alone at $57,256. By comparison, annual costs at the University of California total about $36,100, with resident tuition at $12,570.
USC currently calculates financial aid packages on a case-by-case basis. About 32% of new first-year students receive need-based grants averaging $39,500, and 24 percent receive merit-based awards averaging $20,000, according to The Times.
“A great education should not be limited by the ability to pay,” Folt said.
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