A look back at President Carol Folt’s 2022 State of the University Address

With the 2023 State of the University Address taking place today, Annenberg Media looks back at last year’s State of the University.

"A photo of a President Carol L. Folt standing at the podium at the state of the university address."

A lot has changed since USC President Carol Folt delivered her 2022 State of the University address almost a year ago. We took a look back at what was discussed and the goals set in the 2022 address to see how USC compares today.

Folt spent much of the beginning of her 2022 speech praising the university for the work that was done to better support and represent minorities at USC, coming in the form of two separate initiatives.

First was the renaming of the now-known Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow Center for International and Public Affairs. Formerly known as the Von KleinSmid Center, after known eugenicist and fifth University President Rufus Von KleinSmid, the building was renamed with the goal of “honoring a proud Trojan — leader and member of the Crow Nation, historian, humanist, musician, war hero and educator — whose life and name provides a meaningful symbol of USC’s aspirational and life-affirming mission,” Folt said.

With that being said, the Native American and Indigenous population at USC is small at best. In a report released by the university in 2020, only 25 of the nearly 20,000 undergraduate students identified with one of these groups.

Second was the addition of the Nisei Rock Garden, a type of dry garden known as kare san sui in Japan, dating back to the 11th century.

Following World War II, many Japanese-Americans were placed in internment camps. At USC, Von KleinSmid also had a big role in this chapter of the university by preventing Japanese students from returning to USC after the war ended and also refusing to send their transcripts when the students then tried to transfer their credits.

In an effort to “acknowledge this great injustice,” Folt said, they created the garden and awarded “posthumous degrees to all the remaining Nisei Trojans we could locate,” referring to the children of Japanese immigrants.

Switching gears, Folt focused on mask mandates, hybrid learning and other restrictions, as COVID-19 was more present on campus. Folt boasted about the university’s progress in returning to fully in-person learning as USC was just in the beginning stages of loosening COVID-19 requirements, removing the mask mandate nearly a month before the address.

“Of course, the pandemic isn’t over yet, and we must continue to be vigilant and maintain our adherence to the protocols that are helping to keep us safe,” Folt said.

However, a year later, COVID-19 does not remain at the forefront of the university’s mind. With Gov. Gavin Newsom ending the COVID-19 state of emergency, most precautionary measures from the year prior — Trojan Check, the mask mandate and required weekly testing — have become a thing of the past. COVID-19 positivity rates have remained low, with a current rate of 3.9% for students. Starting in Fall 2023, USC will no longer require the coronavirus vaccine.

Moving away from current students at USC, Folt shifted her address toward incoming Trojans, highlighting the record-breaking admissions cycle. USC has seen a “350% increase in undergraduate applications since 2001,” Folt acknowledged. “We continue to break records relating to our incoming classes: the highest enrollment in USC history, highest average GPA, [the] highest number of first-gen[eration] students — to name just a few.”

In 2023, the university continued on its upward trajectory when it came to admissions. This year’s admission cycle was even more competitive, shattering the records broken in the year prior.

The university received 80,790 applications, a 17% increase from last year and breaking the record for the highest volume of first-year applicants made in 2021. In 2023, only 11.5% were accepted, lowering the acceptance rate by 0.5%.

This comes up at the same time as USC’s newly-implemented “Early Action” option for applicants in which students can apply and receive decisions earlier.

In 2023, the university also accepted the highest percentage of first-generation college students, making up 23% of admitted applicants.

One of Folt’s main talking points in 2022 was sustainability. “As an environmental scientist — I know how interconnected our environment is, and that we must take a comprehensive and integrated approach if we are going to find lasting, scalable solutions,” Folt said. She especially focused on the student’s work in this issue with the “17,000 students enrolled in sustainability-related courses.”

In an effort to achieve carbon neutrality by 2025 and be a waste-free campus by 2028, USC took a big step on July 1, 2022 when it stopped using single-use plastics on campus and at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, where USC plays its home football games. This has helped stop millions of plastic bottles and plenty of plastic waste from going into landfills.

Towards the end of her 2022 address, Folt pointed to an “overarching goal” of increasing the “stature and impact of USC.” She emphasizes two main tasks to achieve this goal: “Making USC the international standard-bearer and innovator for collaborative learning and discovery” and “making USC the top choice for students, faculty and staff who seek purpose-driven work and lives.”

With the opening of a new campus in Washington D.C., the university’s efforts to reach a broader range of students are evident.

In a world so recently removed from the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, diversity and inclusivity being more important than ever, and a university at the forefront of higher education, Folt’s 2023 address reinforced many of the same themes addressed in 2022, while also setting new goals for the university’s future. You can read all about it here.