USC continues to exemplify academic clout, as the university recently rose to No. 23 in the nation for “best national universities,” according to the U.S. News & World Report. This marks yet another milestone achievement for a university that has undergone such dramatic changes in the last decade.
With its rise in rank, USC also pulled academically ahead of crosstown rival UCLA. It was not long ago that UCLA was considered to be the most reputable university in Los Angeles. In fact, for some, it might still be.
But with major advances in the quality of USC’s undergraduate curriculum, extensive research opportunities for students and increased fundraising for its professional schools, this achievement signifies how far USC has come as an institution in such a short amount of time. USC is not only ahead of UCLA, but in the top 1 percent of all American colleges and universities in terms of selectivity.
Although this achievement signifies great success for our university, President C.L. Max Nikias knows we cannot stop here.
“Our goal is to continue our momentum — and even to escalate it — in order to make this one of the most productive and influential universities in an epoch of global change,” he said.
Although the Steven B. Sample era was particularly distinct, we still have significant of progress to make if USC is to reach the highest echelons of academic excellence. Our university — with its sweeping innovations, stellar faculty, prominent urban location and ambitious student body — should aim for nothing less than becoming the leading private research university in the United States.
One way to continue our university’s momentum is to compare our success to other institutions of equal or higher acclaim. As far as we have come as a private research university, USC still ranks behind several California universities, including Stanford (No. 5), California Institute of Technology (No. 7) and UC Berkeley (No. 22). It is in our best interest to emulate what these three have accomplished and what USC has yet to achieve.
It is not enough for USC to gradually lure students away from higher-ranked institutions. Our efforts should make the decision between Stanford and USC one that students cannot answer so easily in terms of academics.
To accomplish this, the university must be quick to discern the top priorities of prospective students. Whether it be an esteemed faculty, a safe and lively campus environment, access to internship opportunities or financial support, our university leaders should constantly look for ways to strengthen areas where we fall behind while emphasizing the areas where we excel.
Sorting through the university’s strengths and weaknesses will become a part of a larger public relations agenda in which USC must continue to enhance its image among high school counselors across the nation. Since the views of high school counselors were included in the rankings for the first time, it is imperative to ensure our university recruiters know the facts and market them in a way that will attract the best and brightest high school seniors.
Marketing the university requires our recruiters first to be explicit about the positive attributes that characterize the Trojan community: elite academic and athletic programs, generous research support, proximity to the film and entertainment capital of the world and, of course, the famous Southern California weather.
Recruiters must then be bold and honest about the challenges the university still faces and the steps it is taking to address them. For example, issues of campus safety and surrounding crime are better addressed than ignored. Though a challenge, even these obstacles can be used to the university’s advantage. University ambassadors would do well to suggest that though the community surrounding USC is very urban it gives students an opportunity to participate in valuable outreach programs. In fact, a striking majority of undergraduates perform community service every year. These facts can turn cause for hesitation into a beneficial recruiting tool.
Dedicated USC affiliates might say national rankings are not to be taken too seriously and that by comparing ourselves to other universities and giving increased attention to recruitment efforts we detract from the university’s focus. But during a time characterized by cut-throat competition to attract the most qualified students from across the globe and with no sign of such tension diminishing, rankings and reputation are often the factors that will prompt a top-caliber student to choose one university over another. The USC administration cannot avoid this reality and still expect to enroll the future leaders of our society.
Like any other university, USC will experience setbacks along the way. Even a university that has accomplished so much so quickly cannot do everything perfectly. Yet, a university that remains confident in its abilities and also open-minded about its shortcomings is bound to become — in truth and in reputation — one of the leading institutions of the world.
Stephen Zelezny is a sophomore majoring in public relations. His column, “USC on the Move,” will run Thursdays.