Professors justify the high USC pricetag

Famous rock stars that serve as professors — those are our tuition dollars at work. And for good reason.

If you haven’t heard, rock musician Steve Miller has joined the USC faculty this semester to work with undergraduates in the popular music and music industry programs.

Jovanna Tosello | Daily Trojan

When a university attracts acclaimed musicians such as Miller as  professors, it serves as a testament not only to the music school but also to the students that comprise it. Essentially, USC has the students Miller want to work with.

“Every time he comes into contact with students, he just comes away energized and wants to work with them on more of a sustained basis,” said Chris Sampson, associate dean of the Thornton School, to The New York Times.

On a larger scale, this is where USC students — and parents — can see the dividends of their tuition payments. USC’s ability to book talented professionals from all industries to serve as teachers and mentors is yet another sign of our unique academic standing among national universities.

Of course, it isn’t enough to just sit in on a lecture taught by an acclaimed professional in a given field. Though we have many resources at our disposal here on campus, the only way to take advantage of these opportunities is to reach out to professors the same way they reach out to us.

Just ask Peter Johnson, a sophomore majoring in popular music performance who plays the electric violin.

On top of being a member of a band on campus and having a Hollywood gig with Glee sensation Mark Salling, Johnson never hesitated to interact with Miller when he was a guest artist at USC in previous years.

“He’s pretty chill,” Johnson said. “He doesn’t instill nervousness. He really likes helping musicians.”

Johnson experienced firsthand what happens when you go out of your way to interact with a mentor — he performed with Miller last year during his concert at Bovard Auditorium.

These kinds of opportunities aren’t usually handed out. They require effort, persistence and drive on behalf of the students to take full advantage of USC’s premier strengths: professional learning and practical applications of what goes on in the classroom.

The obvious advantage is that, unlike other large universities, USC students don’t have to go too far to find these opportunities. Even staying five minutes after class to speak with a professor or guest speaker could get your foot in the door.

This is not to say that a one-on-one conversation with an admired professor or speaker will always end in a dream internship. But these mentors are paid to do what they do best — consult, advise and guide students toward their interests.

There are those, including some parents who foot the tuition bill, who suggest that the money going into a private college education might not produce benefits proportional to such a large expense. Andrew Hacker claimed in his Los Angeles Times op-ed, “College: Where the money goes,” that “Faculty stars may raise prestige, but they are often away from the classroom, having negotiated frequent paid leaves and smaller teaching loads — underwritten, of course, by tuition.”

That isn’t the case for many USC professors, including Miller, who not only provides critiques of his students but also frequently invites them to record with him in his Capital Records studio, according to USC News.

Although the discomfort of rising tuition is legitimate, it only scratches the surface of what’s at stake.

Trojan parents and students should not be misled — their tuition is an investment in a student’s ability to go the extra mile by interacting and networking with faculty and professionals unmatched by any other university. It’s an investment in the students’ professional growth and creativity — the best any parent can make.

No need to look further than the USC mission statement: “Our faculty are not simply teachers of the works of others but active contributors to what is taught, thought and practiced throughout the world.”

In time, perhaps we might add this statement: “Our students are not simply scholars of their respective majors but active participants in what they learn and contribute as the next generation of society’s leaders.”

Stephen Zelezny is a sophomore majoring in public relations. His column, “USC on the Move,” runs Thursdays.

2 replies
  1. Tiffany
    Tiffany says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with Vicki. Although I am sure that some students receive a variety of resources that may include faculty interaction, these claims are in no way substantial enough to support what you have said in this article. Hiring professors who are available and open to their students should be a requisite of all universities, not just of the expensive ones. And like Vicki has pointed out, interacting with faculty is more a byproduct of personal motivation than of tuition paid or salaries earned. It is also a little ridiculous to use one very limited example of faculty interaction and then make a general claim about USC as a whole–not all students are given these same opportunities. I read this and saw empty justifications for a problem that unfortunately affects many hardworking, frustrated students.

  2. Vicki
    Vicki says:

    Interesting article, Stephen.

    I’m curious about your claim here though:
    “…their tuition is an investment in a student’s ability to go the extra mile by interacting and networking with faculty and professionals unmatched by any other university.”

    First, crucially, you have assumed that all students depend on their parents to foot the bill for college. Realistically, I would guess that many people are partially or fully responsible for financing their higher education.

    Secondly, I agree that the cost of college in an investment in a person’s future, but the money itself ($50,000 a year) does not directly improve a student’s “ability” to interact with faculty. The desire to reach out and connect with professors and peers comes from personal motivation, not money.

    Lastly, I am most concerned with your assertion that USC professors and faculty are “unmatched by any other university”. Even if you are writing an opinion piece, you can’t make claims that aren’t based in fact. There are numerous universities with excellent faculty, many comparable to that of ours and even some that are better, that cost the same or less than USC.

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