Incoming U.S. freshmen beginning in Fall 2020 whose families earn an annual income equal to or less than $80,000 will attend USC tuition-free, President Carol Folt announced last week. Among stakeholders, most people praised the new affordability initiative, but some wished the actions could be applied to more students and criticized the university’s correspondence.

According to USC’s press release, because of this expansion, the university will increase undergraduate financial aid by more than $30 million each year. Approximately one in three first-year students beginning studies in fall 2020 and spring 2021 will benefit from this new plan.

“More than 4,000 students, when it’s fully implemented, will see close to $45,000 more in aid in the course of attendance at USC,” Folt said. The financial aid expansion will also not take into consideration owning a home in the calculation used to determine these students’ financial needs.

Folt confirmed that this financial aid initiative would not apply to current continuing students nor incoming transfer students. She also said among entering first-year students, international students are not eligible for these new actions.

"I actually was really shocked because it was not something I expected. I think it’s really good as it will give a lot of people an opportunity to go to such amazing schools like USC,” said Brigid Murphy, a sophomore public relations student.

Some thought the initiative is unfair to continuing students who won’t be able to benefit from this program.

“It’s nice for people who don’t have the necessary funds to get here, but it seems a bit unfair," said Miles Mogush, a USC freshman majoring in business. "I don’t have those funds and that was not offered to me.”

Undergraduate Student Government President Trenton Stone told Annenberg Media that it’s great that the university is increasing access for people from a diverse background as the cost of attending universities in the United States, especially a private one like USC, is “astronomical and increasing quickly.”

“I think the more we can decrease those barriers, particularly for low and middle-income families, the better it will be for students across the U.S.,” Stone said.

USG Vice President Mahin Tahsin said the new actions will relieve many students’ financial burdens and help create an atmosphere that’s more focused on learning.

“Students can learn from each other in the classroom and really gain a better understanding of essentially the demographics of the U.S., so I think this is a great opportunity for learning but also for access,” Tahsin said in an interview.

USG President-elect Truman Fritz said in a statement that he believes the new initiative will make the campus community more diverse and increase access to higher education. He also asked the university to also provide more on-campus support.

“I urge administrators to also consider that students need support on campus just as they need it before they come to college," Fritz said. “I hope that student resources continue to expand to support students who cannot feed or house themselves, and that the administration considers that if USC is admitting those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged, we need to support them in all aspects of their college experience.”

The financial aid expansion is a guarantee that students whose families earn less than $80,000 will receive gift aid equal to the cost of tuition, according to Thomas McWhorter, dean of financial aid. Room and board are not included, but if the student has these additional needs, they will receive additional funds from financial aid, he said.

High school administrators expressed their excitement toward USC’s announcement.

“I am excited to hear that USC is issuing a financial aid expansion for future students whose household income is below $80,000 to attend USC for free,” said Kelly Chu, executive director of Pacific Academy. “As a school administrator, I think it’s a step in the right direction to make college more accessible for everyone. It is very attractive to students who need to make a decision between USC and top public schools such as UC Berkeley and UCLA.”

Frank Kozakowski, the principal of Loyola High School, was surprised by USC’s decision to increase financial aid.

“I was amazed. This is a bold, incredible move for the Trojans to make. I applaud the president, [the] board and all the people that were involved in this decision because I think all of us that are involved in education worry about making it available to all kinds of families,” Kozakowski said.

He added that dropping home property values from the need equation is an essential and commendable move because the property values are not really usable dollars for family expenses. Kozakowski said he wondered why did USC made the bar at the level of $80,000.

USC Provost Charles Zukoski told Annenberg Media that the university chose $80,000 to match the University of California system and because it’s above the median income in both California and the United States.

Boaz Chan, a prospective transfer student at Cal Poly Pomona, told Annenberg Media that financial aid is a big factor when he chooses colleges.

“I think it’s a really good policy as that a lot of more low- and middle-income families have more of an opportunity to attend USC. However, I’m not really sure why they will exclude transfers,” Chan said.

Future international students are not eligible for the new initiative, but USC’s original press release did not make that clear. Folt also wrote in her announcement email to the USC community that “beginning in Fall 2020 and Spring 2021, all entering first-year undergraduate students whose family’s annual income is $80,000 or below will attend USC tuition-free.” The email also did not mention the eligibility of international students.

After the announcement, many USC international students reached out to Annenberg Media, expressing their disappointment toward Folt’s email language. They found out future international students’ ineligibility from Annenberg Media’s coverage.

Yubin Lin, a sophomore electrical engineering student, said he can see that USC wants to support domestic students, but the university should have made that clear in the announcement. He felt international students are exploited by USC for its public image and promotion.

“This is a positive step to make USC a more affordable school and I’m happy to see that happen. On the other side, international students are, once again, ignored and excluded by the university administration,” Tingrui Gan, a USC senior and former executive director of International Student Assembly, told Annenberg Media. “In terms of the correspondences and that email sent by President Folt, it’s blatantly exclusive and disrespectful toward international students. That’s what I feel upset the most.”

Another student said Folt’s announcement was misleading and ignores the financial needs of international students.

“As an international student, I think it’s a good thing as it can help a lot of great students who are limited by financial resources to gain education access,” said Haihang Jia, a senior and president of the USC Chinese Students & Scholars Association. “However, I am disappointed by the university’s attitude toward international students. While the tuition is increasing, again and again, the university does not offer any sort of need-based financial aids. USC did not mention a single word about international students in its press release. I don’t know if USC forgot we exist. The phrase ‘all entering first-year undergraduate student’ used by President Folt is misleading.'"

A USC president’s office spokesperson acknowledged the language insensitivity in the announcement and told Annenberg Media that they have updated the affordability website and press release to make it clear that it’s for “students from U.S. families.”

Folt, Zukoski and McWhorter all told Annenberg Media that there will be more affordability moves in the future to benefit more students.