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Who are USC’s freshmen? The highest achieving and among the most diverse ever enrolled

The most-represented high school is Foshay Learning Center, a public school less than a mile from the USC University Park Campus

New students
Some of USC’s newest group of freshmen and transfer students take part in a spirit rally in August. (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)

USC’s freshman class is the highest-achieving class it has ever enrolled — and one of the largest and most ethnically diverse in the institution’s history.

This fall, USC welcomed 3,068 freshmen to the Trojan Family — the fifth-largest freshman class in USC’s 136-year history, according to new statistics released by the USC Office of Admission. Only 16.6 percent (9,023) of the 54,282 applicants were offered admission, making this the institution’s most selective year on record.

Incoming class statistics

Source: USC Office of Admission (USC Graphic/Patricia Lapadula)

The freshmen enrolled this fall are the highest achieving class admitted in USC history. Their average, unweighted GPA is 3.75 on a 4.0 scale, and 4.07 if weighted. Twenty percent had earned straight As in high school. Another 7 percent earned only one B in high school. They came from more than 1,600 high schools in 49 states and 56 countries.

As admissions officials formalized this year’s freshman enrollment statistics, one finding stood out: The most-represented high school is Foshay Learning Center, a K-12 public school in the Los Angeles Unified School District that is less than a mile from the University Park Campus. Nineteen of USC’s freshmen this year are from Foshay — surpassing the first-year enrollments from the prestigious parochial and private schools in the Los Angeles area.

First in the family

Many Foshay students are the first in their families to attend college, and USC is increasingly home to these pioneers. One in 8 undergraduate students at USC is the first in his or her family to attend.

“We have made a strong effort to recruit students from a range of backgrounds to USC this fall,” said Provost Michael Quick. “They are the first in their families to attend college, transfer students from community colleges and high-performing graduates from a variety of public and private high schools across the nation and the world. We are pleased to have had such an impressive pool of applicants from which to select our vibrant freshman class.”

Georgia Delgado is one of the 19 Foshay students at USC. As the oldest child in her family, she has something to prove to her family, to her peers, her school, her neighborhood — and to herself.

“I am setting an example for those around me,” said Delgado, who said her mother and stepfather were hard workers but did not go to college. “Most students from my neighborhood know about college but don’t feel that they have the potential to someday take part in that experience.”

Thirty-one percent of the estimated 49,000 people who live in the 90018 ZIP code where Foshay is located have not completed high school, according to the 2014 American Community Survey by the Census Bureau. Twenty-three percent completed high school and 24 percent have either an associate’s or some college credits; 14 percent have a bachelor’s degree. The average annual income is $21,175 per household.

Delgado said she started on the path to college because a supportive teacher steered her toward Foshay for its college preparation program, the Neighborhood Academic Initiative, formed through a partnership between USC and the Los Angeles Unified School District 25 years ago.

“I can attribute a lot of my success to the USC NAI program mainly because of the way I always felt supported since the sixth grade,” said Delgado, who was among 56 Neighborhood Academic Initiative students who earned their diplomas from Foshay in the spring. “I’ve always felt supported, and I’ve always known since then that I was going to attend college.”

That support includes a personalized academic environment typically found at much smaller institutions. The student-faculty ratio at USC is 9-to-1 and the average class size is 26 students. Students are able to choose courses of study across 20 different schools and the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

A bridge to college

Launched in 1991, NAI is a rigorous seven-year pre-college enrichment program that prepares low-income students for college or university admission. The program supports students and their families through three components: the USC Pre-College Enrichment Academy, the Family Development Institute and the Retention Program.

NAI students take enhanced classes at USC during the week and participate in the Saturday Academy. They may receive after-school tutoring, remedial and enrichment sessions. They also attend workshops on time management, study skills and preparation for the PSAT and SAT1. Cultural field trips and recreational activities are part of the package.

The NAI Family Development Institute teaches families how to create a positive learning environment at home, effective communication, conflict resolution and college preparation, application and financial aid processes. To help their student qualify for an NAI scholarship, parents, relatives or friends who are advocates attend seminars on Saturday mornings 12 times a year.

NAI also provides support for the students through college via the Retention Program to ensure they complete a college degree.

“It’s an investment of time and personnel that is pretty far-reaching,” said Kim Thomas-Barrios, executive director of the USC Educational Partnerships that oversees NAI. “We’re with the kids from the time that they think about this in fifth grade until their first degree. We call it the NAI family. It’s a true partnership. It’s a relationship.”

Since the program began, 924 students have graduated from NAI, she said.

Foshay is not the only school where USC assists students with college preparation. The university operates a federally funded set of programs, TRiO, to assist students who are low income, minorities and the first in their family to attend college, said Theda Douglas, associate vice president for USC Government Partnerships and Programs.

TRiO now works with 2,500 students in 16 high schools in the Los Angeles area.

Students attend a Saturday academy to develop skills in subjects such as English, reading comprehension, algebra and statistics. They also receive SAT test-taking preparation.

The college-going rate for TRiO’s Upward Bound Math-Science program is 100 percent, Douglas said. Ninety-five percent of the students in the classic Upward Bound program graduate and attend college.

This year, 14 seniors who graduated from the TRiO programs were accepted into USC, she said. In addition, five graduates received full-ride Gates Millennium Scholarships.

“We are making a difference in college-going for these students,” she said.

We are connecting with the surrounding community and building a pipeline to USC.

Timothy Brunold

“That’s one of the great stories of USC,” said Timothy Brunold, dean of admission. “We are connecting with the surrounding community and building a pipeline to USC for students, especially those who are the first in their family to attend college.”

Access and affordability

Every year, USC provides more than $300 million in scholarships and aid — one of the largest financial aid pools in the country. Two-thirds of all undergraduates attending USC receive some form of financial assistance, discounting the average tuition paid (the net price) by nearly 40 percent.

Statistics for this year’s freshman class show that 21 percent have received merit-based scholarships, and more than 60 percent received some other financial assistance. Aid may come in the form of university, state or federal grants, and loans.

Reinforcing its need-blind admissions practice, USC remains among the nation’s top private research universities for the percentage of its students coming from low-income families. Twenty percent of the total undergraduate population — more than 3,800 students — are Pell-eligible this academic year.

Twenty-four percent of the freshmen come from ethnic groups that are under-represented in American higher education. The diverse demographics of the freshman class include 20 percent who are Asian or Asian-American, 14 percent who are international students, 13 percent who are Latino, and 5 percent who are African-American. Forty-one percent are white. Hundreds of new students identify as being from multiple ethnicities.

California is the leading home state (42 percent), followed by New York (4.5 percent), Texas (4.2 percent), Illinois (3.7 percent) and Washington (2.5 percent). Also represented are 56 countries: Most of the international students are from China, India, Canada, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan. The freshman class is 55 percent women and 45 percent men.

“As a major research university, we should be drawing exceptional students to USC regardless of background, family history, economic status or geography,” Quick said. “We want to continue to open our doors to these students who enrich our campus.”

Lilly Diaz, who graduated from the NAI program at Foshay and who is now a freshman majoring in English at USC, has plenty of advice for students who are considering college but face challenges.

“Being successful does not mean that you have to do it alone,” said Diaz, who spent many evenings caring for her three younger siblings while her mother worked three jobs. “I know, for myself, that I pretty much went through middle school with no help. But when high school came, I had two amazing, beautiful, kind-hearted teachers that genuinely cared for me, whom I could go to for help.”

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