Folt talks affordability, sustainability, AI tech at the 2023 State of the University

In her annual speech, the president addressed this year’s issues, as the university’s current goals.

Carol Folt stands with a microphone in a blue suit

“Everything, everywhere, all at once” was the saying President Carol L. Folt would repeat throughout the State of University address on March 28.

Beyond Folt’s reference to USC alum Ke Huy Quan, Folt used the phrase to talk about the work of Trojans in various university departments, as well as the several plans for the coming 2023-2024. One of Folt’s main topics during the address was affordability. In an interview with Annenberg Media following her address, Folt acknowledged the 5% rising tuition costs but said that financial aid adjusts with the rise as well.

“It’s a really complicated situation right now because inflation is almost double the rate that we even added in tuition. So we’re adding services, adding programs, trying to increase it, and yet the value of our own dollar is lower,” Folt said.

Folt also expressed her hopes for increasing financial aid to graduate students and for expanding the affordability initiative, which eliminates tuition for families making less than $80,000 a year. The initiative, which started in 2020, includes incoming first-year students, but it does not include transfer students, despite that most transfer students come from a California community college.

Folt said to be looking to include transfer students in the initiative but provided no timeline of when this will happen.

Two topics that Folt did not discuss in her address were the state of the Lyft program and the relationship between the university and unaffiliated Greek organizations. In an interview with Annenberg Media, Folt said these topics were not at the forefront.

“I don’t think we’re planning to bring the single-ride back. That’s not how we started. I think we’re sticking with the new model,” Folt said. “It’s extremely expensive.”

The free Lyft program in surrounding university areas continues to face controversy among the student body since the return to the shared ride model.

As for Greek life disaffiliation, Folt gave an analogy to the apartment system.

“In a way, they function like an apartment building now, you know, and so we have restricted access to that apartment building. So in that sense, we need to depend more on students who go to those places to report to us,” Folt said, although she did say the university is still in communication with the groups.

Despite the graduate students and shuttle bus drivers’ recent efforts to unionize, Folt did not detail these events or future engagements in her address, instead saying in an interview, “I believe in people’s choice and we will work with them. These are still our students. They’re still our employees. You know, and I think we have to make this work in a way that is positive,” Folt said. “But in the end, we want to continue to make sure that we have as few middle people between us, our students and our faculty and our staff as possible.”

Separately, an important topic in the address was technological innovation, with the university’s continued involvement in the development of AI. On March 9, the university announced a new research center for generative AI and Society to explore the impact of AI on culture, education, media and society, which received $10 million in funding.

“That center came about was to deal sort of in the rapid generative AI. Every single profession, every single school is affected,” Folt said, adding that although $10 million is a lot of money, “It’s a tiny fraction of what’s going to be affected by it today. But for us, this is the first leap forward and it’ll probably be mostly bringing people together to talk about these issues.”

Folt also emphasized throughout the address the importance of embracing and accommodating students by increasing mental health support and working with students within the next year to craft a plan for a new advising program, although the details of that are yet to be seen.