University of Southern California

Office of the President

C. L. Max Nikias

Topic: Uncategorized

Message to Ambassadors

Topics: Uncategorized

March 31, 2015

Each spring, I deliver an annual address to USC’s faculty, and this year I focused on the much-discussed topic of the value of college education, and the exceptionally central role that universities such as USC play in society. In recent years, universities have come under tremendous scrutiny—with heated criticism regarding increases in tuition and burdensome student debt—and some critics have even asked if a college education is worth the cost. My remarks, which I am sharing with you here, answer with a resounding yes.

Building a biotech corridor in Los Angeles
With enormous potential to boost the region’s economy, USC was pleased recently to host a summit to advance support for building a biotech corridor in Los Angeles. Such a hub would create thousands of new jobs in our region—and keep talented graduates of our local universities close to home. The summit drew distinguished leaders from business, academia, and government, including Los Angeles County supervisors Hilda Solis and Mark Ridley-Thomas, as well as Bill Allen of the Los Angeles Economic Development Council. I believe we stand at an auspicious moment in the history of medicine and the biological sciences, and each day brings advances that not only improve how long we live, but how well we live. A biotech corridor would position USC as a leader in this area, and allow us to usher in progress and economic development—right here in the heart of our city. What Silicon Valley brought to computer technology, Los Angeles can bring to biotechnology: a thriving environment of innovations encompassing academic institutions, training centers, companies, and communities throughout the county. The day before the summit, the Los Angeles Times published an OpEd that I authored in which I expand on these views. My OpEd served as the basis for a motion that Councilmember Mitchell Englander presented to the Los Angeles City Council; in it, he proposed business tax exemptions for biotech companies in the city. These all are important steps forward in the realization of this important opportunity.

USC strengthens ties with Mexico
While USC serves as a source of economic stimulus and innovation locally, we realize the additional potential we have when we expand our partnerships globally. Earlier this month, I led a delegation of USC trustees, deans, and faculty to Mexico City, with the goal of strengthening the university’s collaborations with Mexican institutions, as well as building relationships with alumni, prospective students, and parents. During our time there, we met with business and government leaders, and made official visits to the National Council for Science and Technology (CONACYT) and National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). Over the last four years, USC has nearly quadrupled its Mexican student base, and Mexico’s position as an integral partner—not only for USC and California, but for the United States—will surely grow. As part of our trip, I presented Mexico’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs, José Antonio Meade Kuribreña, with the university’s inaugural Judge Widney Award. Our visit generated significant coverage in Mexican news outlets: our delegation participated in over 30 interviews, which led to more than 85 published stories in top-tier media.

USC receives gift from Trustee Ray Irani
I am pleased to let you know that our distinguished trustee, Dr. Ray Irani, generously pledged $20 million to the university, of which $15 million will create the Ray Irani Residential College at the USC Village. Irani College—one of nine new residential colleges planned for the USC Village—will be a supportive community that integrates living, learning, and extracurricular activities for up to 320 students. Taken together, the nine residential colleges will add as many as 2,700 student beds to our University Park Campus, and increase the number of students in USC-owned housing by nearly 40 percent. This gift builds on the already stellar philanthropic legacy of Dr. Irani and his wife, Ghada; he is an illustrious alumnus of our engineering school, and they have both been beloved members of the Trojan Family for more than six decades. The additional $5 million of this gift creates the Ghada Irani Chair in the Keck School of Medicine of USC, and the Ray Irani Chair in a school or department to be designated later. The gift also establishes a million-dollar student support fund. Irani College is the second residential college to be named at the new USC Village—the other being McCarthy Honors College.

Julie Chen/Leslie Moonves and CBS Media Center
Our Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism is now home to the Julie Chen/Leslie Moonves and CBS Media Center, thanks to a new naming gift. The 20,000-square-foot, two-story media center—located in Wallis Annenberg Hall—serves as the school’s new hub of digital media production and education, with innovative features and design that surpass most professional newsrooms. The school hosted a wonderful event to introduce the media center, and drew considerable coverage: Entertainment Tonight noted that the facility provides the school’s journalism and public relations students with first-hand experiences of cutting-edge technology.

L.A. Live Talks Business Forums
Earlier this month, I was a guest of the L.A. Live Talks Business Forums, and was interviewed by Peter Marx, Los Angeles’ deputy mayor and chief innovation technology officer. We discussed a variety of topics, including USC’s innovations and its place as a leader in global education. You can see our discussion at the forum’s website: As always, thank you for your continued service as a USC Ambassador.

Yours truly,

C. L. Max Nikias

USC honors Mexico’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs, José Antonio Meade Kuribreña

Topics: News, Uncategorized

Undersecretary Alcocer  accepts Judge Widney Award on behalf of Foreign Secretary Meade

Undersecretary Alcocer accepts Judge Widney Award on behalf of Foreign Secretary Meade

At a special reception and dinner Tuesday at Mexico City’s historic Palacio de Autonomía, USC President C. L. Max Nikias honored Mexican Foreign Secretary José Antonio Meade Kuribreña with the inaugural Judge Widney Award.

Nikias presented the award in recognition of Meade’s leadership and the important gains Mexico’s foreign ministry has made in establishing educational diplomacy and building research and innovation partnerships between Mexico and the United States.

Special ceremony

Sergio Alcocer Martínez de Castro, undersecretary for North America, accepted the award on behalf of Meade, who is on a trade mission to the United Kingdom. Also attending the special ceremony were U.S. Ambassador to Mexico E. Anthony Wayne and Meade’s father, Dionisio Meade. The elder Meade is president of Fundación UNAM, a nonprofit that conducts philanthropic and other activities relating to the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), the oldest university in North America.

Read the full article on USC News

Mexico City presidential delegation kicks off

Topics: News, Uncategorized

Grupo Financiero Inbursa chairman Marco Antonio Slim (son of Carlos Slim) met with President C. L. Max Nikias in Mexico City to discuss opportunities in online education

Grupo Financiero Inbursa Chairman Marco Antonio Slim (son of Carlos Slim) and President C. L. Max Nikias discuss opportunities in online education

USC’s Mexico City presidential delegation is officially underway, with a full schedule of events and meetings that began today. The visit brings together Trustees, Deans and senior administrators who will work towards deepening USC’s ties with Mexican universities, companies and other institutions. President Nikias has identified Mexico as a key priority for USC and over the last four years, the university has increased efforts to build partnerships for research, student mobility and scholarships. These efforts have yielded impressive results with the number of Mexican students enrolled at USC quadrupling since 2010.

In the coming days, the USC delegation will meet with business and government leaders and make official visits to the National Council for Science and Technology (CONACYT) and National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) to strengthen longstanding partnerships. President Nikias will also bestow Secretary of Foreign Affairs José Antonio Meade Kuribreña with the university’s inaugural Judge Widney Award during a reception in his honor.

Los Angeles Biotech Summit

Topics: Medicine/Health Care, Uncategorized

February 26, 2015
By C. L. Max Nikias

Good morning everyone! On behalf of the entire USC community, I am so pleased to welcome you to the Los Angeles Biotech Summit.

Today, through several panels of prestigious researchers and leaders from academia and industry and our community, we will explore the extraordinary possibilities for expanding the development of biotech in our region.

To some, the challenges may seem great. But to many, the prospects for success are far greater. By marshaling the commitment and resources to tap biotech’s vast potential, we can lift human health as never before, and truly transform our communities.

Before I begin, I would like to thank two remarkable Trojans for joining us today: the Honorable Hilda Solis and the Honorable Mark Ridley-Thomas, of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

Supervisor Solis, who represents the First District, has led a life of exceptional service to her country, her state, and her home city of Los Angeles. Her singular commitment to community has elevated the health and job opportunities of countless Californians. We are proud she is representing the area within which USC’s Health Sciences Campus is located.

Representing the Second District, which is home to our University Park Campus, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas has been a tireless champion of healthcare infrastructure for city residents, from clinics to hospitals. In addition, he recognizes the pivotal role of technology in promoting wellness to citizens of all ages.

I would also like to express my appreciation to the Honorable Curren Price and the Honorable José Huizar of the Los Angeles City Council for being here today.   Councilman Price represents our University Park Campus’ 9th District, and Councilman Huizar represents our Health Sciences Campus’ 14th District. Their inspiring leadership is revitalizing our communities.

I would also like to thank Nelson Rising, the chairman and CEO of Rising Realty Partners. A veteran of real estate investment and development, he has advanced a number of distinctive projects—including San Francisco’s Mission Bay—that have redefined how we live and work.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge Elmy Bermejo, the regional representative for U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez.

Today, we gather at a most auspicious moment in the history of medicine and the biological sciences. Each day brings advances that not only improve how long we live, but how well we live. Now, we have an opportunity to usher in progress and economic development, here in the heart of our city.

What Silicon Valley brought to computer technology, Los Angeles can bring to biotechnology: a thriving environment of innovations encompassing academic institutions, training centers, companies, and communities throughout the county.

And yet, San Francisco is the national leader in biotech investment, attracting $1 billion last year alone. Los Angeles ranks 14th with $45 million, placing us well behind San Diego, which stands at number 3.

What makes this puzzling is that Los Angeles universities produce over 5,000 graduates in the sciences, engineering, and technology—more than San Francisco and San Diego combined. Many of our city’s graduates head off to these two other metropolitan areas for better employment options.

We simply can no longer afford this massive brain drain from L.A. County. We must make this our moment for the benefit of all county citizens!

We stand at a unique intersection of ambition and opportunity. The visionary leaders of our region recognize the extraordinary windfall that biotech can bring to the city and county, both medically and economically.

Accelerating the development of biotech in Los Angeles will not only promote discoveries that revitalize healthcare. It will also dramatically invigorate job growth throughout the area. In fact, a recent study found that for every high-tech job created, four more are added in fields like marketing, accounting, administration, or sales.

In all these efforts, we are fortunate to have the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation as a steadfast partner with a noteworthy track record of creating jobs within L.A. County. Partners like this will be critical to invigorating the local biotech industry.

The expansion of biotech will generate many new jobs within the industry, such as researchers and lab techs. It will also create even more jobs to support the infrastructure surrounding the biotech industry.

One of the best places for a biotech park within this emerging industry is right here in East L.A., at the Health Sciences Campus. The county and city leaders have true partners across the leadership ranks of Keck Medicine of USC, all of whom view the hopes for biotech through the same prism of promise.

As a research university, USC has made significant investments to enhance our medical enterprise. Over the last decade alone, USC has more than doubled its investment in the biomedical sciences. We have also made key purchases of hospitals and clinical practices to expand our footprint in healthcare.

In addition, the university has supportive benefactors who believe in our mission in biotech, such as the renowned inventor, Dr. Gary Michelson. Last year, we broke ground on the USC Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience. When completed, the building will host 20 to 30 teams of gifted scientists who will translate their collaborative research into real-world advances to treat disease and other afflictions.

Capital investments at USC are matched by ones in personnel, not only to ensure excellence in caregiving, but also in research. The university has recruited some of the top minds in medical science, including Drs. Andrew McMahon, Steven Kay, Ray Stevens, and Stephen Gruber.

These researchers, who will be offering their insights in this morning’s first panel, are conducting translational work that is transforming medicine and our understanding of biology. They also have demonstrated records of starting biotech companies.

USC’s aspirations in biotech are further backed by one of the most comprehensive, interdisciplinary research programs in the nation. This program touches on every school at USC, from the medical, dental, and pharmacy schools to the schools of liberal arts, health policy, and social work.

Our dedication to patient care and research also extends to our longstanding partnership with Los Angeles County USC Medical Center. For decades, USC has provided many of the outstanding doctors at this facility. And recently, USC cemented its commitment to research and clinical trials at the hospital by signing a “sponsored programs agreement.”

The university’s special relationship with County/USC is but one example of our support of the community. Dedication to our neighborhoods can also be found at the Keck School of Medicine.

A world leader of preventative medicine, the medical school is home to the Southern California Children’s Environmental Health Center. Its primary mandate for outreach is to protect children’s health through educating local residents and reducing air pollution at all outdoor play spaces.

At USC’s Health Sciences Campus, we also dedicate ourselves to the community by committing ourselves to its future. For instance, through the university’s STAR program, more than 600 local high school students have worked with USC scientists and engineers on consequential research. One hundred percent of the program’s participants have gone on to college, and many will go on to become leaders in the field of biotech.

We believe in the children of our immediate community, and we believe in the prospects of biotech to benefit our entire community. A biotech park adjacent to USC’s Health Sciences Campus would create up to 3,000 new construction jobs and almost 4,000 new permanent jobs.

The city and county can count on many institutions besides USC to participate in this noble cause, including Caltech, East Los Angeles College, Los Angeles Trade Tech, the LAUSD, and Cal State L.A. I should point out that more than 1,000 Cal State L.A. students have come to USC in the last decade to pursue advanced degrees in the sciences, medicine, and occupational and physical therapy.

At its core, biotech harnesses the components of life to create new compounds, products, and processes to enhance life. By harnessing the potential of the biotech industry, we can also infuse new life into our neighborhoods, our city, and our county.

In doing so, we can forever change the lives of every man, woman, and child.

Thank you, and Fight On!

Los Angeles has the right DNA to become biotech hub

Topics: Uncategorized

By C. L. Max Nikias

Originally published in The Los Angeles Times Op-Ed section on February 25, 2015

As the Great Recession decimated U.S. job growth, one sector continued to thrive: biotechnology. Encompassing everything from medical device manufacturing to biopharmaceutical development and the latest diagnostic tools, this industry will no doubt frame humanity’s most important advances in the 21st century.

California is home to two major biotechnology hubs—San Francisco and San Diego—but Los Angeles has been left behind. The paradox is that universities in Los Angeles County produce more than 5,000 graduates in biotechnology-related fields each year, compared with 2,800 in San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont. However, it’s San Francisco that attracted $1.15 billion in biotechnology investment in 2013, compared with a paltry $45 million here. No wonder, then, that so many of our graduates head north.

To reverse this trend, Los Angeles requires an ecosystem that fosters business, venture capital investment and access to academic medical centers for research and clinical trials. My university, USC, hopes to spark this change by building a Biotechnology Park adjacent to our Health Sciences Campus in Boyle Heights.

With the cooperation of Caltech, community colleges, the L.A. Unified School District and other institutions, this will represent the first step in a plan for a robust biotechnology corridor in the surrounding area. The corridor will provide space for established companies, training for entry-level jobs and incubators for start-up firms.

Pharmaceutical, biotechnology and biomedical companies have already expressed interest. Such companies rely on university partners for research and development, and our Biotechnology Park would give them the infrastructure to flourish.

If we get it right, the economic potential is enormous. The initial Biotechnology Park is expected to create 3,000 construction jobs and nearly 4,000 permanent positions, from entry-level technicians to high-wage doctorate-level scientists. But that would be just the start. The entire corridor could be of similar size and scope to San Francisco’s Mission Bay project, which will employ an estimated 30,000 people once completed. The bulk of these jobs will not require an advanced degree. A recent study found that for every high-tech job created, four more are added in fields like marketing, accounting, administration or sales.

In 2012, the research firm Battelle developed a master plan for building up the biotechnology sector in Los Angeles County. It made the case that Los Angeles is primed for growth. The region already has leading research universities, top clinical and research hospitals, a manufacturing base, a massive port and a venture capital presence. A biotechnology corridor would connect these pieces, drawing investment, adding jobs and generating tax revenues for all parts of the county.

Other cities are moving ahead aggressively with their own plans to become biotechnology hubs. In New York City, for instance, officials are creating a public-private venture capital fund designed to launch biotechnology start-ups. If Los Angeles is to stake its claim, it must move quickly.

In the last 15 years, nearly 50 USC start-ups in such industries have headquartered themselves outside Los Angeles because of the city’s lack of infrastructure and facilities. These companies, including successful firms such as ORCA Biosciences (acquired by Epigenomics) and Tocagen, now employ hundreds of people—but in cities such as Seattle and San Diego.

Yet all of the ingredients for Los Angeles to capture growth in this booming field are already here. With the right alignment between government, academia and industry, we can harness the region’s existing strengths—including our science graduates—to create lasting economic growth.

Message to Ambassadors

Topics: Uncategorized

February 27, 2015

I am pleased to begin this month’s letter with some wonderful news regarding our campaign. We have reached a significant milestone in our journey, one that only five other universities have achieved in the history of higher education: USC has surpassed the $4 billion mark. Among all colleges and universities in our nation, only Harvard, Cornell, Stanford, Penn, and Columbia have accomplished this, and what is even more remarkable: we achieved this landmark in just four and a half years. I share this news with great pride and gratitude, as it represents the collective efforts and dedication of the entire Trojan Family, with gifts coming from every corner of the globe, and every constituent group in our community.

More important than the money raised, though, is how this success benefits academic excellence at USC. Of the $4 billion, $1.4 billion was directed to our university endowment, including student scholarships and student aid. In the last four and a half years alone, this endowment has allowed us to create 77 new faculty chairs. In addition, of the money raised, $2.1 billion has advanced other academic priorities, comprising faculty research programs, research institutes, school-based programs, and the medical enterprise, including pediatric research and care. Finally, of the $4 billion, $500 million has supported building construction.

I would like to take this opportunity to personally acknowledge our trustees, who have led the way with their singular generosity, along with our dedicated parents and alumni. Collectively, our trustees have given a total of $1.12 billion to the campaign. It is also noteworthy that an extraordinary 60 percent of the total amount raised has come from non-alumni. And, as another point of pride, USC Athletics has raised nearly $280 million during this campaign, thereby achieving its most successful fundraising ever—all against the backdrop of NCAA sanctions.

As we celebrate our success, and work toward our larger goal of $6 billion, I have emphasized to our community that now is not the time to become complacent. We still have $2 billion left to raise, and the final stretch of any campaign is always the most difficult. Our deans have done an outstanding job inspiring their schools’ communities, and I would like to warmly commend their exceptional leadership. Moving forward, we must redouble our efforts, and remind ourselves of our mission.

Neighborhood Academic Initiative expands its reach
As one example of the campaign’s extraordinary impact, USC’s Neighborhood Academic Initiative (NAI)—which has prepared hundreds of local students for college since 1991—will grow dramatically in the coming years. Thanks to a generous $5 million gift from USC Trustee Joan Payden, the initiative will expand to reach some 1,100 students in grades six through 12 by 2020, including 600 additional children and teens in the neighborhoods near our Health Sciences Campus. NAI’s cornerstone will be the newly named Joan A. Payden Student Academy.

Trojans at the World Economic Forum
In January, I was delighted to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, as a special guest of the Global University Leaders Forum (GULF). This annual gathering draws leaders in the areas of education, business, and government from all over the world, and USC traditionally has a strong presence. This year, USC Trustees Marc Benioff, Jane Harman, and Suzanne Nora Johnson attended, along with Dean Elizabeth Daley and Professor David Agus. A number of our esteemed alumni were also present, including Husodo Angkosubroto, chairman at Gunung Sewu Kencana in Indonesia; John Defterios, a journalist with CNN; Ivan Glasenberg, CEO of Glencore International AG; and Jim Hart, president and CEO of Senn Delaney. Trojan Kevin Mahaffey, who co-founded Lookout in 2007, was among the under-30 entrepreneurs at the event. During my week in Davos, I met with Emilio Lozoya Austin, CEO of PEMEX, and Michael Dell, founder and CEO of Dell Inc., and contributed a piece to Agenda, the online publication for the World Economic Forum.

USC and Uber establish partnership
This semester, USC entered into a test program with Uber to supplement the university’s Campus Cruiser program within our University Park neighborhood. This added ride-sharing option is now available on Thursday through Sunday evenings, from 8 p.m. to midnight. The initiative has already proven tremendously popular, and students’ nighttime transports increased 69 percent since last year.

Niki and I wish to thank you for your continued support of USC, and for sharing our successes with your family and friends. In this spirit, I’d like to share an article that recently appeared in The Washington Post, as it nicely captures our shared vision for the university’s future. We’d also like to warmly congratulate USC Trustee Ming Hsieh on his recent election to the National Academy of Engineering. This is a wonderful and well-deserved honor on his part, and we are so pleased to see his exceptional contributions recognized.

Yours truly,

C. L. Max Nikias

Annual Address to Faculty

Topics: Uncategorized

Click here to view a reprint of President Nikias’ remarks with photos

The Value of College Education
February 2015
by C. L. Max Nikias

It is an extraordinary privilege for me to offer my annual address as president of USC. Faculty and students determine the quality of an institution, and USC stands among the most academically elite universities of the nation and the Pacific Rim. Your accomplishments define us, and they will continue to distinguish us.

But we should begin by considering an irony: In the past five years, we have advanced academically at precisely the moment that higher education has come under greater criticism than ever before. As you well know, there has been an alarming increase in the number of those who question the value of educators, the value of higher education, and its cost. Politicians, the press, and the public are all demanding greater accountability, and that universities prove their worth. These demands should be—and are—taken seriously on our campuses.

Allow me, however, to place the issues in a new context. I’d like to offer some perspective on the myths and realities behind the rising cost of college. My goal is to be as complete and objective as possible. But being fully objective about this, I must admit, is like trying to be unbiased when discussing my own children!

Seriously, when mentioning the names of America’s top universities today, you may hear that:

  • college has become too expensive;
  • tuition has risen faster than inflation;
  • the next bubble to burst is the $1 trillion in student debt;
  • a college degree doesn’t help young Americans in the job market; and,
  • that America’s top research universities have become “bastions of privilege and hypocrisy.”

And some critics even say:

  • that colleges do not manage resources well;
  • that faculty should focus more on teaching than research;
  • that they don’t need academic tenure; and,
  • that state-of-the-art laboratories and facilities are too expensive.

All these are serious charges. Many of them are true. We owe it to ourselves and to our nation to examine ourselves honestly. However, we should also ask: Are we focusing too much on the cost, rather than on the value that a college delivers?

Allow me to describe the lay of the land and how we got here. Today, there are some 4,000 colleges and universities across the nation. These include two-year colleges, four-year colleges and universities, and an increasing number of for-profit and online schools. Of these 4,000 schools, about 50 operate as America’s premier research universities.

These 50 top research universities are the envy of the world. They inspire even more admiration overseas than they do at home! About half are private universities such as USC and Stanford and the rest are publics such as Berkeley, Michigan, and UCLA. While most colleges simply teach existing knowledge, our great research universities also create new knowledge that drives innovation, and possess excellent academic medical centers for patient care.

I’m proud that USC is not only one of these leading top schools, but also that our university is growing faster than ever. We are gaining unprecedented attention as a pace-setter on many of this century’s most promising new frontiers.

Yet, in recent years, America’s top 50 research universities have been placed under scrutiny. People call for more accountability. In other words, the ongoing popular discussion and public debate focuses on the “top one percent” of universities, and therefore overlooks the “other 99 percent” of colleges.

There are indeed concerns to be addressed. But let’s examine the real problems. About three million students graduate each year from our nation’s high schools. Of these, my fellow colleagues, only 250,000 have the credentials—such as the SAT scores, high GPAs, and well-rounded skills—to compete for a spot in our top 50 research universities. That is only 8 percent of the nation’s graduating high school population. The other 92 percent compete for a spot at the other 3,950 schools, or go straight into the workforce.

So, let’s set aside the top 50 universities for a moment. What is happening at these other colleges, which educate the vast majority of the American workforce? Are these schools delivering value?

On the one hand, Professor David Autor says yes. The MIT economist argues that the true cost of a college degree — from any decent college — is a great investment over the long run. He asserts that the return on that investment, in terms of earnings, is significantly higher for those who go to college than for those who do not.

On the other hand, former Education Secretary William Bennett released a detailed study a few years ago, in which he concluded that only 150 of our 4,000 colleges are worth the investment. Less than 3 percent of our colleges—just America’s Top 50, joined by some other colleges—deliver value that’s worth the cost, Bennett says.

This raises two issues about the $1.1 trillion burden in student loans:

  • Where did this debt come from?
  • And to whom does it truly belong?

Factoring in inflation, tuition at private universities has doubled since 1984, to around $48,000 today. But while USC’s own tuition doubled over three decades, our student aid budget has quadrupled to $300 million per year— the largest in the nation. At our top private universities, including USC, at least two-thirds of students get a tuition discount through financial aid. When they graduate, their debt is an average of less than $23,000.

At USC today, 22 percent of our freshman class is made up of students from underrepresented minority groups, a surprising one in seven freshmen is the first in her family to attend college, and about 23 percent of our students receive Pell Grants. In fact, we rank third in the nation in Pell Grant distribution among private universities — after only Amherst College and Emory University.

This reflects a great contract between America’s top schools and the philanthropic sector to make the best education available for the best students from all corners of America. Even the “full-tuition-paying family” has a portion of its educational costs offset by outside philanthropy. At USC, this offset is 12 percent of the total cost.

The former president of Harvard, Derek Bok, once said, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” The fact is that tuition has been rising. But what explains the rise?

First, cutting-edge information technology and digital media are very expensive commodities, and no enterprise is more technology-dependent than a top research university. Students and faculty expect the latest and greatest technology to be integrated into classrooms, laboratories, administrative services, residential halls, and everywhere else on campus. Thirty years ago, the cost of IT infrastructure was almost zero. Today, that overhead runs to hundreds of millions of dollars annually! And cybersecurity threats are putting even more financial pressures on our IT infrastructure.

A second big-ticket item is financial aid, which has risen far faster than tuition. This involves assistance not only for poor students, but also for members of America’s middle class, who risk falling through the cracks. These are the families that are truly squeezed by the cost of college. USC provides significant support in the form of merit-based aid. Without this aid, many middle class families would have to carry much of the total cost of the “expected family contribution.”

There is a third big-ticket item: the escalating arms race for talent world-wide, for the world’s best faculty. The competition today is truly global, extending far beyond our nation’s borders. The goal is not just to recruit the best faculty, but also to retain them. Our top research universities are now home to a huge portion of the world’s Nobel laureates, National Academy members, award-winning scholars, professional society fellows, and renowned artists. The gravitas of these faculty members brings everything else into America’s orbit.

A fourth big-ticket item is the physical infrastructure of our campuses. A great campus today is like an independent city-state, complete with on-campus health services, student services, transportation services, residential life, police, culture, dining, club sports, entertainment, and recreation. This is driven purely by the market: To our surprise, students and parents demand more, not less, in services and infrastructure. They expect a stellar academic and residential life experience.

And fifth, it is essential for a private university to keep a low ratio of students to faculty in the classroom. For USC, on average, that’s eleven-to-one. Increasing efficiency here would reduce teaching quality.

But consider a puzzle: Tuition at most of our small liberal arts colleges is as high as at the top 50 research powerhouses, even though those schools perform far fewer functions.

Let me share a surprising truth with you: The market could bear much higher tuition prices at our top 50 schools because the demand for a seat is intense, and it increases every year.

Last year, USC rejected 44,000 applications. More than 6,000 of the rejected applicants had straight As and scored in the 99th percentile on their SATs. This year, we had 52,000 applications. And that’s despite the outcry regarding college costs.

In reality, the effective tuition rate of private research universities is significantly less than the price tag. So, if USC eliminated all financial aid tomorrow, we could reduce the sticker price by a third. But this would squeeze out America’s middle class.

The philosopher Bertrand Russell said, “Democracy is the process by which wise men decide who will get the blame.” So let’s decide who is to blame for student debt. Federal lending to college students began in 1958 as a way to invest in America’s young talent. Yet today, many experts point to the $1 trillion student debt as a sign of approaching disaster. Of course, rising tuition is not the only factor, or even the main one, in the creation of this debt.

The biggest factor is a change in our culture: that college should be universal—and that any American who wants a college education is entitled to one. Thus, college enrollment more than doubled in the past 30 years, from 10 million to 22 million students today. These new students required high levels of financial assistance. And while the number of Americans attending college increased, so did the amount of time they spent in school, by obtaining more education, especially graduate degrees.

Recent graduates suffered not just one recession, but two historic ones—the tech bubble of 2002 and the Great Recession of 2009. Millions of young Americans either stayed in school or went back to school during these recessions. So, when graduates cannot find jobs, or they find jobs with lower salaries than they deserve, whose fault is it? The colleges? Or these brutal economic realities? Or both?

Student loan debt has also been aggravated by the economics at America’s public universities.

Benjamin Franklin once said that only death and taxes are certain. But, by paying taxes, you could be certain 30 years ago that your child could attend a U.C. school for just $1,000 in annual tuition. Today the cost is closer to $13,000. With the proposed 5 percent increase per year over the next five years, in-state tuition will be closer to $16,000 by 2020. And since the 2008 economic meltdown, the tuition at public universities has increased by 300 percent!

If a student comes to the U.C. system from another state, she now pays nearly $36,000 for one year’s tuition. So, it is no surprise that public universities have been aggressively pursuing out-of-state and international students for their undergraduate programs. Sadly, America’s public colleges have been pushed away from their principal mission—to make college affordable for a broad section of society in their own states.

When the global economy crashed in 2008, the private student loan market crashed too. Washington stepped in and assumed responsibility.

But let’s bear in mind: This federal intervention protected us when the so-called bubble burst. The $1 trillion student debt represents a small fraction of total household debt for Americans, which is about $12 trillion today.

And most Americans have a reasonable debt load: 70 percent of those with student loans owe less than $23,000. This is manageable because the college premium has never been higher.

However, this college value does not extend to the for-profit colleges. Students at the for-profit schools have far higher dropout rates, far higher loan burdens, and far lower salaries than those from traditional colleges.

And here we go: 50 percent of student loan defaults today come from the for-profits. Meanwhile the default rate is less than 1.6 percent at USC and its peer schools.

At the for-profit schools, only a small percent of students graduate. The graduation rate at public universities is higher, at 59 percent. But at USC and the other top private universities, that rate of graduation is 91 percent or higher! So, when we go beyond the sticker price, we cannot help but see tremendous variations in value.

But what is next, given the talk of a need for a revolution? Across the nation, we see the dramatic expansion of many business startups and partnerships with universities, offering online education programs. In fact, all these developments suggest that the conditions may be in place for an academic earthquake. One thing is certain: There will be more choices, and more competition. All of this will be healthy!

If William Bennett is right, and only about 150 of our 4,000 colleges are worth the cost, then we should not be surprised if a plethora of second-rate and third-rate colleges go out of business. It may not be so bad to see the closing of schools that are expensive but do not deliver academic value.

However, the Department of Education recently announced a proposal to create a “ratings system” for American colleges and universities. Each institution would be rated on three areas: access, affordability, and outcomes. None of these metrics reflect academic value or academic excellence. “It’s like rating a blender,” a Department of Education official said a year ago.

USC wins on outcomes and access, and we use a tremendous amount of resources to fund merit-based and need-based aid scholarships, to make a USC education affordable. The department of education has yet to finalize its proposed ratings system, but this has raised alarms.

The ratings system may incentivize the wrong things. And it may shut out many qualified students from the best schools. If we were to regulate economic expectations for America’s colleges, we may inevitably ignore the very academic quality that produces real value.

We are not against accountability. But we are very concerned about over-regulation. Can we really trust a three-category ratings system, with no academic excellence metrics whatsoever, to regulate 4,000 colleges? Are we going to rate colleges in three categories like movies? PG, PG-13, R?

I am not suggesting, my fellow colleagues, that USC and its peers are perfect.
Far from it! I believe we should always strive for greater efficiency. Yes, we can do better in finding ways to reduce administrative costs. We must never be complacent.

Our universities should do more to help America’s K-12 school systems. These schools provide the precious raw material for our colleges and our nation. All universities should be adopting local schools, and partnering with them, to fix the scandal of K-12 education.

USC’s Neighborhood Academic Initiative (NAI) is providing opportunity, access, and a chance for some of our most under-served students to earn a first-rate education. And, with a visionary gift from USC Trustee Joan Payden, we will expand our NAI program to schools around the Health Sciences Campus in East Los Angeles.

But what about students who aren’t in the program? Our top private universities could make themselves more affordable by allowing students to take their first two years at inexpensive but credible colleges before transferring.

Among the top 25 private research universities, we are the only institution that truly believes in the value and potential success of these students. We enroll 800 highly qualified community college graduates every year.

About half of these students come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, and they achieve exactly the same graduation rates as their peers. Integrating students from all walks of life makes the campus experience more like the real world, and it promotes upward mobility.

The top private research universities are raising most of the resources they need through philanthropy. Our ambitions to improve the academic quality of our faculty and student body, and the overall residential experience, have indeed enabled us to flourish, even in the midst of a recession.

Three years ago, we announced an audacious $6 billion fundraising campaign. At the time, it was the biggest in American higher education. It is no secret that other universities quickly and quietly adjusted their fundraising efforts.

Experts were in disbelief. The Chronicle of Philanthropy doubted our efforts, saying: “No private organization has ever tried to collect that much from a single drive.”

A significant milestone in our journey, one that only five private universities have ever achieved, is this: USC has surpassed the $4 billion mark. However, we did it in four and a half years! Through our campaign, we are reaffirming our commitment to provide our students, our faculty, and our academic community with an unparalleled USC experience.

From the $4 billion raised to date, $2.1 billion has gone to academic priorities in faculty research and creative programs, student scholarships, teaching programs, school-based programs, and the medical enterprise, including pediatrics; 77 new faculty chairs have been created; nearly $500 million has gone toward the construction of buildings; and $1.4 billion has gone to our university endowment.

What is truly remarkable though is that 25 percent of the money raised came from trustees of the university; 60 percent of the money raised came from non-alumni; and USC Athletics raised $280 million, thereby achieving its most successful fundraising ever—all against the backdrop of NCAA sanctions.

With $2 billion left to raise, now is not the time to become complacent. We must push harder, work faster, and aim higher. This historic campaign is advancing academic excellence and access, and cementing USC’s position as one of the world’s top research universities.

People want to be part of our institution and our scholarly and creative successes. Success in student quality will only continue to come by ensuring that our curricula are timely, and yet also reflect a timeless wisdom—timeless in the sense of the Greco-Roman classics, and the lessons of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment; and timely in terms of reconnecting to the town square and the marketplace, and in terms of understanding the impact of innovations in society.

Yes, we are moving in the right direction with the new General Education program, and I commend our faculty for working on it so diligently. With an emphasis on critical thinking and writing, our General Education program has been praised by accreditation bodies.

But we need to do more! The true value of a USC education must always be rooted in our ability to provide the foundation for lifelong learning, and to create complete human beings.

I believe that USC’s rise as an academic powerhouse is not a minor anomaly within a larger higher education system. USC’s rise has occurred because our faculty, our staff, and our community have been championing those timeless academic values that make education one of society’s most crucial enterprises.

These core values protect the freedom of inquiry, freedom of expression and debate, the relentless pursuit of truth, gender equality, the fostering of collaboration, and ethical discernment.

These are the values that gave form to the Enlightenment. They are what Immanuel Kant said offered a “way out,” an escape from blind obedience to forces, ideologies, or institutions.

Enlightenment was not a doctrine, nor a prescription for being human. It was a mode of discovering oneself and one’s world, this mode lies at the heart of the university experience. These values—and these opportunities—exist at a great university like nowhere else. In our curricula today, we endow students with the skills, knowledge, and techniques germane to the world of our times.

But we ought to make sure we also infuse their spirits with our most timeless values of enlightenment, so that they can expand their own limits, and those of the world around them.

Unfortunately, none of these fundamental principles of Enlightenment are reflected in the metrics proposed by the Department of Education.

Allow me to conclude by imploring you to always remember Plato’s brilliant and enduring Allegory of the Cave—the few well-known pages in Book VII of The Republic. This allegory raises some of the most basic questions: What is real? What is Truth? What is Good? Its scope, as you know, is tremendous, but it can also be an illustration of what it means to be a great academic community for our own age.

Socrates describes a group of people who have lived their entire lives chained in a cave, with their heads fixed facing a wall. There’s a fire behind these prisoners, and as things pass in front of the fire, shadows appear on the wall and echoes of unseen objects are heard.

These images and sounds are all the reality they see. As Socrates explains, they don’t understand that what they’re seeing is only a small portion of what truly exists.

What would happen if these prisoners were freed? What if they saw that the shadows were nothing more than projections of other things? What if they were taken out of the cave, and allowed to see the sunlight? It would be nothing they could have ever imagined!

We learn from this allegory that education isn’t just knowledge and facts poured into a person’s brain. It isn’t the mere transmission of data and information. It is far more than the memorization of words, images, and sounds.

Traditional classroom teaching, in many ways, is no different than shadows projected on a wall in the cave. We can add more value today to our curricula—whatever the course we are teaching—and to a USC education:

  • By motivating students with critical thinking to turn their attention in the right direction;
  • By encouraging one another to explore a world beyond the shadows projected by other forms; and,
  • By inspiring one another not to be afraid to seek truth, and not to be afraid of the discomfort of exploring a new subject.

So what, then, is a university? Is it simply a trade school or a training facility? Is it a financial transaction between a business and a customer? Is it a series of short-term concepts that drive most sectors of human enterprise?

A university should be nothing short of the great crucible in which our freedom to think—and therefore our ability to change the world—is forged. It should be nothing less than a life-giving and light-giving form of community for our students.

This is our mission. This is our purpose. This is the University of Southern California!

Thank you, and Fight On!

Message to Ambassadors

Topics: Uncategorized

January 30, 2015

Niki and I hope that 2015 is off to a wonderful start for you. We are so fortunate that each new year brings exciting achievements from members of our Trojan Family. Just before the holiday break, we were delighted to learn that three additional USC professors will be inducted into the National Academy of Inventors, an esteemed group of innovators that comprises 21 Nobel laureates. The USC group includes Professor Mark Thompson, who is perhaps most known for his groundbreaking work on organic light-emitting diode (OLED) screens; Professor Behrokh Khoshnevis, who is best known for Contour Crafting, his robotic construction system that 3-D prints buildings; and Professor Alan Willner, who has pioneered consequential research on increasing data transfer through optical fibers and, more recently, experimented with twisting light beams, as well as twisting radio beams to send data at exceedingly fast speeds. Their accomplishments continue to bring tremendous honor to the university, and we warmly applaud this most recent recognition.

A moving tribute to a Trojan legend
At the Tournament of Roses, USC alumnus Louis Zamperini was recognized with a very touching tribute. Mr. Zamperini was selected last summer as the parade’s grand marshal, but passed away shortly after his selection. To honor him at the parade, USC’s beloved mascot, Traveler, followed the grand marshal banner as a riderless horse, a traditional symbol of a fallen soldier. This speaks to the remarkable power of Mr. Zamperini’s story, which continues to inspire people around the world. A track star while a student at USC and at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Mr. Zamperini served in World War II, during which his plane was shot down over the Pacific Ocean. He survived adrift at sea for 47 days before being picked up by enemy troops, and spent two harrowing years as a prisoner of war. His story is the subject of Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption, as well as the recent film Unbroken. To commemorate Mr. Zamperini’s achievements, USC has established an endowed scholarship in his name, which will be awarded to a track and field athlete each year.

Trojan student-athletes show their spirit
The Trojan football season concluded at the Holiday Bowl with an exciting win over the University of Nebraska. The spirit our athletes showed on the playing field was matched by the compassion and generosity they showed in our communities. Throughout the holidays, Trojan student-athletes—drawn from six different sports—distributed gifts to disadvantaged children in South Los Angeles. Reflecting on the experience, football player Chris Willson said, “Being at USC, we have an amazing platform to reach out to the community. But with that platform comes great responsibility.” His words capture the wonderful spirit of the holidays—and a spirit that is uniquely Trojan!

When we returned from the break, Niki and I were thrilled to learn that Trojan great Randy Johnson was elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. In achieving this distinction, the left-handed pitcher joins two other legendary Trojans: New York Mets pitcher Tom Seaver and Toronto Blue Jays front office executive Pat Gillick. Mr. Johnson pitched at USC from 1983 to 1985, with his best year coming as a senior. He had a magnificent 22-year career in the big leagues and was named to 10 All-Star teams, as well as Most Valuable Player of the 2001 World Series.

Last week, with the new semester off to an excellent start, I was delighted to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, as a special guest of the Global University Leaders Forum (GULF). For many years, USC scholars and leaders have attended this annual meeting, so we have long had a presence at the event. This year, I joined a number of illustrious Trojan alumni, faculty, and trustees, including Marc Benioff, Jane Harman, and Suzanne Nora Johnson, at the meeting. I attended discussions at the GULF Governor’s meeting, attended forum sessions, and met with business leaders and legislators from around the world. It was an exceptionally informative and productive trip.

Back at USC, Niki and I enjoy seeing classes in full swing, with our talented students filling the campuses. Just before the semester started, the university announced the appointment of a new dean for our Gould School of Law: Andrew T. Guzman. Professor Guzman comes to USC from the University of California, Berkeley, where he has distinguished himself as one of our nation’s leading scholars of international law. We are so pleased to welcome him to the Trojan Family, and look forward to the coming year—and all that it holds for our community.

Yours truly,

C. L. Max Nikias

Message to Ambassadors

Topics: Uncategorized

December 22, 2014

Niki and I hope you are having a wonderful holiday season. Throughout this month, we are extremely fortunate to spend time with many members of the USC community, and we’re always touched to see—and feel—the special version of holiday spirit that our Trojan Family shares. We truly appreciate the many kind wishes and greetings we receive.

It was in this same spirit of warmth that Niki and I welcomed more than 350 USC students to our home on Thanksgiving Day, continuing a tradition we began shortly after my inauguration in 2010. The San Marino Outlook published an excellent story on this year’s event, and I’d like to share it with you here.

We were especially fortunate that this year the chairman of our Board of Trustees, John Mork, and his wife, Julie, joined us in hosting these students, who hailed from all over the world. Many of the students who attended were far from their families, so this was an opportunity to experience this uniquely American holiday among Trojans. For others—including some students from places as close as Pasadena and Glendale—this was an opportunity to spend this special day with their new Trojan Family. Niki and I were particularly pleased that our own daughters—Georgiana and Maria, both of whom are USC graduates—shared in this experience. It was a very special and memorable afternoon.

USC Pacific Asia Museum gala
Just before the Thanksgiving holiday, Niki and I attended the Festival of the Autumn Moon Gala, the first since the Pacific Asia Museum became a part of the USC family. The beautiful event honored USC Trustee Dominic Ng, chairman and chief executive officer of East West Bank, for his professional and philanthropic accomplishments, as well as his ardent support of Asian art and culture. Along with his wife, Ellen Wong, Mr. Ng stands among our nation’s leaders in introducing contemporary Chinese art to American audiences.

The event raised a record amount of support for the museum and drew more than 550 guests, including USC Trustee Ming Hsieh and his wife, Eva. The Hsiehs are passionate collectors of Asian art, and Mr. Hsieh has been instrumental in connecting the museum with new members of our community. This event takes place annually, and this year’s gala signals a magnificent future for the USC Pacific Asia Museum.

USC Institute of Urology gala raises $2 million
At another exceptional event in November, the USC Institute of Urology raised $2 million to support its world-class patient care and research programs—and it did so in a single night! The gala honored Derrick Hall, president and chief executive officer of the Arizona Diamondbacks major league baseball franchise, who stands proudly as a prostate cancer survivor and advocate. Mr. Hall received the inaugural Louis Zamperini Courage Award, which bears the name of the late Olympian and USC alumnus who survived a harrowing imprisonment during World War II. Dean Carmen Puliafito of the Keck School of Medicine and Dr. Inderbir Gill, the institute’s founding executive director, hosted the event, which included performances by singer-songwriter Sheryl Crow and comedian Jay Leno, and was emceed by Joe Piscopo. USC Trustee Rick Caruso and his wife, Tina, graciously served as co-chairs, along with baseball executive Ken Kendrick and his wife, Randy.

As Niki and I reflect on a truly remarkable year for USC, we would like to take this opportunity to thank you warmly for serving as a USC Ambassador. In sharing the university’s successes with your friends and family, you contribute tremendously to its stature among a much wider community, and you help tell the USC story to new audiences and supporters. For this we are truly grateful.

Niki and I look forward to the coming year, and all that it holds for our Trojan Family. We hope 2015 is a particularly special and productive year for you.

Yours truly,

C. L. Max Nikias

Message to Ambassadors

Topics: Uncategorized

November 26, 2014

As the holiday season begins, Niki and I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving. We look forward to welcoming nearly 400 students to our home on Thanksgiving Day again this year, continuing a tradition we began when I became president. This is always a special highlight of our holidays.

President’s Distinguished Lecture series
Earlier this month, we welcomed President Bill Clinton to Bovard Auditorium, as part of our President’s Distinguished Lecture series. President Clinton delivered thought-provoking remarks, and then engaged in a lively one-on-one discussion with Dean James Ellis of our Marshall School of Business. Speaking directly to our students, who filled Bovard to the rafters, President Clinton said, “The next 20 years look good to me. I wish I were your age. I’d love to see what’s going to happen. We’re entering an age of unprecedented discovery.” Last year, as part of this same lecture series, we welcomed President and Mrs. George W. Bush.

Accessibility of higher education
The Washington Post recently published an op-ed I wrote regarding the cost of higher education, and the need for more private universities to offer opportunities to community college students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. USC admitted 824 of these students last year; however, at most elite, private institutions, fewer than one of every 1,000 students are transfers from a community college. We have found that, at USC, these students graduate at the same rate as those who enter as freshmen, and 44 percent are the first in their families to attend college. This is an important success—both for USC and society—as these graduates often become leaders in their communities.

USC Michelson Center construction begins
USC recently broke ground on the USC Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience—a significant step forward in our ambition to create a vibrant, interdisciplinary hub for convergent bioscience. Dr. Gary K. Michelson, a retired orthopaedic spinal surgeon who has pioneered more than 955 issued or pending patents worldwide, provided a $50 million gift for the center, which will foster collaborations between our Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and Viterbi School of Engineering. At the event, Dr. Michelson noted that USC is an engine for entrepreneurs, and predicted that our city will be the next wellspring for biomedical advances. “Los Angeles should become to medical research what Silicon Valley is to information technology,” Dr. Michelson said. “We owe it to the world. We owe it to L.A. We need to invest in this.”

Renowned Scripps scientists join USC
Two recent recruits to USC—Professors Raymond Stevens and Peter Kuhn—have moved their labs from The Scripps Research Institute to the USC Michelson Center, and their recruitment to USC already has received tremendous attention, as they will also bring approximately 50 researchers with them. The Chronicle of Higher Education described them as “game-changing” biomedical scientists, and in the same article, Professor Stevens said he was drawn to USC’s emphasis on convergent bioscience. Professor Kuhn added that at USC, “You work together on incredibly relevant problems to find solutions that are truly meaningful.” The story mentioned that in the past several years, USC has recruited 75 new faculty and institute directors to Keck Medicine of USC.

Meanwhile, in the Times of San Diego, Professor Stevens said USC’s expertise in digital art will prove critical in bridging the scientific and engineering disciplines. Professor Kuhn added, “USC unites the best of the best, who align on the vision of improving human health.”

Iovine and Young Academy receives accolade
The USC Iovine Young Academy—founded with a generous gift from music industry icons Jimmy Iovine and Andre “Dr. Dre” Young—continues to draw praise. The Wall Street Journal recognized the academy founders with the WSJ Magazine 2014 Innovator Awards for Entrepreneurship. The accompanying story describes the USC academy as a “dream factory” dedicated to developing entrepreneurship and innovation in the music industry. In the piece, Mr. Iovine said, “We wanted to build a school that we feel is what the entertainment industry needs right now.” The academy’s executive director, Erica Muhl, said, “There are a lot of other programs around the country that marry business and technology, but they’re all missing that arts and cultural component. The difference with us is we start with the arts part.”

Yours truly,

C. L. Max Nikias

Presidential priorities

  • Transforming USC into a major hub of the emerging Age of the Pacific—by creating trans-Pacific alliances, by fully utilizing Los Angeles as a laboratory for trans-Pacific research, education and culture, and by building the foremost network of Pacific leaders.

  • Ensuring that the USC academic community serves as a key engine of intellectual, economic and cultural progress for the nation, and allowing its vast array of disciplines to be combined creatively in order to catalyze new knowledge and innovation.

  • Ensuring that USC promotes imagination and invention by creating a living and learning environment in which the university’s undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty are fluent in a wide variety of intellectual areas, ranging from classical literary works to the latest digital technologies.

  • Serving the neighborhoods around our two campuses through job creation and quality k-12 education. Further strengthening the legendary traditions of the Trojan Family.

  • Leading USC during the most ambitious fundraising campaign ever announced by an American university. This historic endeavor will raise $6 billion to support USC's faculty and students, as well as its academic priorities, capital projects, and essential infrastructure.