The USC class of 2024 is the largest incoming freshman class, with a record-breaking percentage of first-generation students, according to statistics released by the university Tuesday. Twenty-two percent of the incoming undergraduate class are the first in their families to attend college — a seven percentage point increase from last year.

“For us, recruiting students and building an applicant pool is a long-term commitment,” said Dean of Admissions Timothy Brunold in an interview with Annenberg Media.

This year, the overall admission rate for the incoming class jumped to 16%. This is the first time the acceptance rate has risen since 2010. The university received 7,000 fewer applicants for the Class of 2024 than the previous year, which had a record-low admissions rate of 11%.  This is the second incoming class after the Varsity Blues scandal placed national attention on the admissions processes of universities nationwide, including USC.

Over the past year, many students have called for changes and accountability from the administration around issues of racial and ethnic diversity on campus, through social media accounts like @black_at_usc and statements from various student cultural organizations. Thirty percent of the Class of 2024 are from underrepresented racial and ethnic backgrounds, which is slightly higher than the previous class.

Of the incoming class, nearly a third of students identified as white, more than a quarter as Asian or Asian American, 17% as Latinx or Hispanic, 12% as international, 6% as Black or African American, 6% as multiple ethnicities and around 1% as Native American, Pacific Islander or unreported.

This past summer, President Folt announced in a list of actions against anti-blackness that the university would hire a Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer to be a part of her senior leadership team.

“It’s not as if issues of diversity have never been addressed at USC, but I think having a Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer is going to help us have even better conversations about this administratively,” Brunold said.

In that same list, President Carol L. Folt also announced the establishment of the First Generation Plus Center, which will provide mentorship, workshops and resources to first-generation, undocumented and former foster youth students. The initiative comes after students' criticism of the university’s lack of support for first-generation students since last year.

The university also admitted 35 USC Leslie and William McMorrow Neighborhood Academic Initiative (NAI) scholars from LAUSD schools. NAI is a USC pre-college program that helps students in East and South Los Angeles get accepted to colleges and universities through classes, workshops and tutoring. 24 of these scholars are from the Foshay Learning Center in Los Angeles, which also sent the most students in the county to USC this year.

“In my mind, NAI really works. First of all, of course, it’s a USC program, and it’s really focused on our neighborhood, and I think that’s critical because even though we are a university that has a global footprint in terms of our students and faculty, I just think it’s important that we’re good neighbors,” Brunold said.

“Our concern was that the particular elements of the pandemic potentially were going to keep students away from going to college. Even students with privilege, with social capital, no one is untouched,” Brunold said.

The university awarded $25 million more in financial aid to the Class of 2024. Around two-thirds of these students will receive financial aid from university sources.

This is also the first year that students from the United States whose families make under $80,000 can attend USC tuition-free

“I’m optimistic with what this year represents for USC and for us,” Brunold said on the Class of 2024. “I feel that in a challenging year like 2020, if we can have this kind of success, imagine if we have a year that’s less problematic.”