The Daily Gamecock

USC unveils stronger academic goals

Strategy aims to increase average SAT, number of professors

USC officials now consider their academics as good as the universities of Georgia and Connecticut, but they want to be more like the University of North Carolina — Chapel Hill.

That, however, could take a while. At a board of trustees strategic meeting Tuesday, Provost Michael Amiridis identified what top public universities USC wants to resemble, and how it plans, in the long term, to get into the big leagues.
To be statistically comparable to the universities of Virginia, Missouri and Maryland, USC must do a lot: hire more faculty, increase retention and six-year graduation rates, spend more on research, graduate more doctoral students, decrease the size of incoming freshmen classes and increase SAT scores.

USC has already caught up with its self-defined peers on SAT scores, but the university’s current average SAT score of 1198 is still more than 50 points lower than some of the top public institutions in the country. Amiridis said he wanted to increase the average to 1220 by 2014.

“We have caught up with this group of institutions that we are very happy to call our peer group today,” Amiridis said. “Ten years ago they would have laughed if we would say they are our peer group, because we had a difference of approximately 50 points in the SAT that we have covered.”

But how will USC hit 1220? Amiridis said USC needs even stronger in-state and out-of-state recruiting, more scholarships to entice competitive students and bigger Capstone Scholars and Honors College programs.

“Twenty extra Honors College kids will raise your SAT by one point,” Amiridis said. “Fifty or 100 extra honors kids will raise your SAT by five points. So the math is not very complicated.”

The mid-range SAT scores for the 2010 freshmen Honors College class were between 1370 and 1450. But USC also has pledged to accept every in-state applicant with a 1000 SAT and a 3.0 GPA, creating a dilemma for admissions officials between raising the university’s average SAT score and continuing to serve the South Carolina students as the state’s flagship institution.

So far, USC has been able to have its higher SAT cake and eat it, too. The university increased its enrollment by more than 50 percent in the past decade, allowing it to admit more South Carolinians, more academically talented out-of-state students and, importantly, bring in more tuition dollars to offset state budget cuts.

But now, USC is running out of quality in-state students to recruit, places to fit them and quality professors to teach them.

“We are limited by the size of the freshmen class, we are limited by the in-state and out-of-state percentages and we are also limited by the average SAT score of South Carolinians,” Amiridis said. “The high school SAT scores in South Carolina are not getting any better. Frankly, they’re getting worse.”

USC’s total undergraduate enrollment, currently over 21,000, is swiftly catching up to its peer institutions’ average of 23,000, especially since 2007. The influx of students has rendered it desperately in need of more space for lab sessions, 50-60 student classrooms, 100 plus student auditoriums and residence hall rooms. All freshmen are required to live on-campus, so further increasing the size of the freshmen class means denying more dormitory rooms to upperclassmen.

Amiridis said the university will lose even more classroom space once the Moore School of Business moves to its new location and USC leases the Close/Hipp Building to the Justice Department. He said the next time a significant amount of classroom space will be freed up will be when the law school moves into its new building.

Another issue with increasing freshmen class size is a ballooning student-faculty ratio, an measure of academic quality in which USC is lagging its peers. USC now has a 19 to 1 student-faculty ratio, up from 14 to 1 a decade ago. USC’s peers have an average 17 to 1 ratio.

USC is not only suffering in numbers of faculty, but also in quality of faculty. USC has a 28 to 1 student to tenured and tenure-track-faculty ratio. Amiridis says the university can decrease that ratio to 24 to 1 by 2014. It plans to hire 200 new tenure-track faculty over the next four years, and replace temporary faculty with doctoral-level instructors.

Amiridis said simply increasing tenured faculty members’ teaching load wouldn’t solve the problem.

“The minute that we change the teaching load significantly we’re going to lose the best faculty members we have, because they are committed to research,” Amiridis said.

So to decrease the ratio and space problems, besides adding new faculty and buildings, Amiridis said the university should hold steady or decrease the size of incoming classes. An unexpected number of applicants who decided to come to the university, coupled with an increased number of transfer students may require a decrease of about 100 students in next three years, the provost said. He said he expects enrollment to level out at about 24,000 to 25,000 students.

“The size of the freshmen class has to stay flat until our infrastructure catches up,” Amiridis said.