Of the top 30 ranked universities in the nation (which consists of 32 schools due to tied rankings), only 16 have female leaders. USC becomes the 17th top university to elect a woman as president, with the recent hiring of Carol Folt.
"I've been a faculty member, a teacher, and a scientist," Folt said. "The things I love the most are working with students, working with faculty, creativity discovery. That is what I bring and look to every day."
Folt's selection to be the first woman to step into the presidency at USC isn't the first time she's achieved a similar milestone. She also served as the first female chancellor during her previous post at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, from 2013 to 2019.
On a national level, the hiring of women to lead nationally ranked universities is on the rise.
Yale University was the first of the bunch to have a woman president. This came in 1977 when Hanna Holborn Gray took office. She left a year later to become the first woman president for the University of Chicago.
Over the next five decades, an additional 15 top universities hired women to lead their schools, including Princeton, Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. There are still another 15 of these schools that haven't hit this milestone, including USC's crosstown rival UCLA.
In an interview with Annenberg Media's Erica Hur, Rick Caruso, the Chair of the USC Board of Trustees, said Folt's gender was not a factor in her election as president. However, Frank V. Zerunyan, a professor of the practice of governance at USC and an expert in leadership, said USC's hiring of a female president seems to have a strategic motive.
"It's clear that a woman's perspective on some of the challenges [USC] is facing, would be different," Zerunyan said. "So, I would not discount that at all."
Folt becomes president at USC in the midst of a challenging time for the university. In the last year, USC experienced three major scandals: the college admissions bribery scheme and allegations of sexual misconduct against two former doctors at the student health center.
The incoming president said she is taking her opportunity at USC to create change within the university.
"I feel like I have an amazing chance to be to a part of every kind of higher education in America," Folt said. "Those pathways, each one of them is really important. So when I look at the problems we're facing here, I look at them as another challenge."