USC offers free tuition to families making under $80,000 and a break for homeowners https://t.co/Zd0fZix9sW
— Los Angeles Times (@latimes) February 20, 2020
Back in October, University of Connecticut President Thomas Katsouleas announced the Connecticut Commitment, a financial aid expansion plan that will eliminate tuition expenses for students from Connecticut with household incomes less than $50,000. Though it has generated controversy, Katsouleas’ plan has the potential to provide valuable opportunities to students in need if university funds are managed properly.
But last Thursday, University of Southern California (USC) President Dr. Carol L. Folt went a step further. In an attempt to make her university more accessible to working-class students, Folt announced that students whose household incomes do not exceed $80,000 annually will be able to attend USC without paying tuition as of this fall. While her financial aid expansion is designed to increase, I worry that its radical nature will compromise both the university’s academic prestige and its student body.
Before I become too critical of the USC plan, it is worth noting that the cost of living in Southern California is extremely inflated when compared to most of the country. Thus, a Middle American family making $50,000 a year will have a much easier time paying for their children’s tuition than a Californian family making the same amount of money. (For the purpose of this article, I will consider California households that make less than $80,000 to be of the working and lower-middle classes.)
However, the issue at hand is not the fact that poorer USC students cannot make their tuition payments. Most of these students are able to attend the accredited university on the back of generous scholarships and financial aid packages already in place. Living expenses, such as housing and meal plans, are far more detrimental to students without the means to pay for them. President Folt’s plan makes no mention of relieving students from the burden of Southern California’s expensive nature.
USC is making tuition free for students from families with incomes of $80,000 or less. And recognizing the high cost of living in California, the university will no longer include the value of a home in calculations used to determine financial need.https://t.co/20HLcr62ED
— The New York Times (@nytimes) February 20, 2020
Furthermore, raising the tuition-free threshold to $80,000 actually assures that fewer students will receive academic scholarships. If students eligible for free tuition at USC under Folt’s plan know that they can go there for free, what incentive do they have to apply for scholarships? Of course, USC is not a “safe school”, but an all-out free tuition incentive essentially allows the university to create a monopoly over elite lower-middle class students in Southern California. Those who would otherwise consider other attending prestigious universities like Cal, Stanford or UCLA will flock to USC in large numbers. Ironically, in trying to create diversity, the USC plan will only shuffle student demographics and maintain uniformity.
When I mentioned “shuffling demographics,” I was referring to the students who really lose out as a result of Folt’s plan: those from middle (and low upper-middle) class households making just above the $80,000 threshold. An obvious correlation, the need-based financial aid awarded to students decreases as their household income rises. The cost of college is rising exponentially, and I worry that middle-class students will find themselves just as disadvantaged as their less fortunate peers if tuition-free programs with quotas continue to be implemented across the country. In the case of USC, we must feel terribly for students in those households making $80,001 a year, whose slight prosperity denies them a chance at academic prestige.
All admission scandal jokes aside, USC has proven itself to be a unique academic environment and one of the few places where typical students walk to class alongside the children of celebrities. For the sake of those typical students at USC and elsewhere, we must reject the implementation of income-based quota systems that determine the future of college students. Likewise, it is up to universities to find better ways to attract the finest students and bring out the best in them as individuals, not to group them together in socioeconomic masses at the expense of others.
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Carson Swick is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.