Nikias addresses university tuition rates

first_imgStriking a balance between lowering tuition costs and increasing availability of financial aid, President C. L. Max Nikias recently spoke with university staff and faculty about what it entails to financially support as a “premier research university.”In both his annual address to faculty in Town & Gown on Feb. 11 and his address to staff in Bovard Auditorium on Feb. 19, Nikias defended USC’s position as a world-renowned research university.At the address to faculty, Nikias responded to the criticism research universities have recently received from the media regarding the cost and value of higher education.He listed some complaints that have been expressed about America’s top universities. These complaints included the tuition rates rising faster than inflation, student debt increasing to $1 trillion, a college degree not helping young Americans in the job market, and top research universities being “bastions of privilege and hypocrisy,” according to NikiasNikias responded to these charges, saying that universities have to strike a delicate balance between cost and curriculum.“Many of [the complaints] are true. We owe it to ourselves and to our nation to examine ourselves honestly,” Nikias said. “However, we should also ask, ‘Are we focusing too much on the cost, rather [than] on the value that a college delivers?’”He also addressed the distinction between the United States’ top research universities and other higher education institutions.“Today, there are some 4,000 colleges and universities across the nation,” Nikias said. “These include two-year colleges, four-year colleges and universities, and an increasing number of for-profit and online schools. Of these 4,000 schools, about 50 operate as America’s premier research universities.”Nikias said that the 50 top research universities are “the envy of the world” because they inspire admiration worldwide, and rather than just teaching existing knowledge, these universities create new knowledge driving innovation and academic excellence.Nikias also defended the choices made by leading research universities such as USC.He acknowledged that even though USC’s tuition has doubled since 1984, the university’s student aid budget has quadrupled to $300 million per year — the largest in the nation.“If USC eliminated all financial aid tomorrow, we could reduce the sticker price by a third,” Nikias said. “But this would squeeze out America’s middle class.”Vittorio Masina, a freshman in the World Bachelor in Business program, said USC’s financial aid program is a vital component in the university.“The fundamental goal of the financial aid program is to make the world-class education USC offers affordable to virtually anybody,” he said. “Abolishing all forms of financial aid — which is identical to giving a 1/3 tuition financial aid to everybody — doesn’t accomplish it. The current system individually evaluates each student, and assign scholarships tailored on needs and merit. I wouldn’t be here without USC financial aid system. I couldn’t afford it even with the 1/3 tuition decrease.”With the new information technology expenses going from almost zero to millions annually, college costs have risen. Cost has also gone up as a result of physical infrastructure expenses.Nikias argued that student loans are the main contributor to the America’s $1.1 trillion student debt crisis.“It represents a small fraction of total household debt for Americans, which is about $12 trillion today,” Nikias said.He said the debt amount has little to do with the value of education at these top tier universities. Citing Massachusetts Institution of Technology economist David Autor, Nikias said that these research universities provide monumental return on investment when measured against a lifetime income.Nikias also talked about how top research universities are raising a good portion of necessary resources through philanthropic efforts.“Our ambitions to improve the academic quality of our faculty and student body, and the overall residential experience, have indeed enabled us to flourish even in midst of a recession,” Nikias said.He cited the $6 billion fundraising campaign USC launched in 2011, and how USC surpassed the $4 billion mark in only four and a half years as evidence of the university’s ability to thrive even in difficult economic circumstances.The U.S. Department of Education proposed a rating system for American colleges and universities that Nikias felt was not an accurate reflection of excellence of American universities. The rating would measure three areas: access, affordability and outcomes.“None of these metrics reflect academic value or academic excellence,” Nikias said.He argued that a rating system such as the one proposed by the Department of Education ignore academic excellence. He continued, “[It] may incentivize the wrong things. And it may shut out many qualified students from the best schools.”Harshini Chengareddy, a freshman majoring in global health, said that financial aid should remain a priority for the university.“Different rankings measure different things; and in this case, if the depth wants to include affordability, they have the right to since that is a big issue for many students,” she said. “I don’t think it necessarily means USC will be ranked low; however, considering the amount of financial aid we offer [is] more than any other college in the country.”Nikias concluded by stressing that while USC can improve in many areas, its rise as an “academic powerhouse” is attributed to “our faculty, our staff and our community [championing] timeless academic values that make education one of the society’s most crucial enterprises.”last_img

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