OPINION: Admissions accessibility at USC needs improvement

Last week, USC Forward, a coalition composed of USC students, faculty members and community residents, held numerous demonstrations on campus advocating for accountability from USC leaders. In a time when the University is mired in numerous scandals, USC’s weak promises of change are beyond concerning. Tangible reform needs to take place at this institution, especially regarding accessibility.

USC’s leaders need to focus on admissions for local low-income and first-generation students and allocate funds for scholarships for a designated number of them.

Efforts to do so, including USC-run charter high schools, have fallen short, and programs like the Trojan Transfer Plan prioritize legacy admissions over local students who are just as qualified.

A proposal like this one for a “quota” of accepted low-income and first-generation students toes the line of affirmative action and constitutional legitimacy.

However, the upper-middle class is still substantially over-represented in American public universities, including USC. A 2017 New York Times study found that the median income of a USC student’s family is $161,400, and that 63% of students come from the top 20% of society.

Despite having one of the largest financial aid pools in the country, USC does not guarantee free or heavily discounted tuition for students from lower-income brackets — only 2.2% of undergraduate scholarship aid is granted through the University’s endowment.

In addition to providing more opportunities for local students, USC should consider eliminating Trojan Transfer programs and reallocate those spots to low-income and first-generation students.

Participants of the Trojan Transfer Plan are selected based on their ties to the university such as legacy status or being the child of an employee; this year, more than 400 legacy transfer students enrolled at USC. According to a report by Annenberg Media, many have some sort of connection to the University.

Admission programs like this raise questions about transparency and unfair processes regarding  USC admissions. These two programs should be eliminated in favor of allocating spots and encouraging pipelines for low-income and first-generation students.

While the University has tried to address this issue, these efforts still fall short in truly addressing socioeconomic inequality. In 2012, the Rossier School of Education founded a charter management organization called Ednovate, operating five high-performing charter schools, touting a “100% graduation rate with a 100% college-acceptance rate.”

However, these charter schools host their own issues that hinder students from success.

One online reviewer of East College Prep, which is operated by Ednovate, cited discrimination against teachers and students as one of the many issues plaguing the school. Rossier also attempted to turn around Crenshaw High School in 2007. The Wall Street Journal reported that the partnership dissolved after five years, citing frustration with the district’s oversight, disrespectful student behavior and different sets of goals among stakeholders, including balancing immediate test-score gains against community support of the school’s culture.

The University fails to prioritize students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and USC’s partnerships with Ednovate, QuestBridge and other initiatives are simply not enough.

To foster lasting change in modern education, USC must consider eliminating programs that favor legacy students and focus instead on giving low-income and first-generation students more financial support.