Big Gifts Are Making USC a Powerhouse in Public Policy

A public policy school named after a discount retailing king has got to have a chip on its shoulder — especially when it's competing against the likes of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

But I can't imagine that the folks at the Sol Price School of Public Policy at USC are worried about their pedigree these days. Not with all the big gifts that the school's dean, Jack Knott, is hauling in. (See Grants for Higher Education).

After the initial $50 million gift from the Price Charitable Fund in 2011 — hence the name change — the money has kept rolling in. In early 2012, Arnold Schwarzenegger made a $20 million initial commitment to the school to launch a public policy institute named after the former governor. Then later in the year, a USC professor named Leonard D. Schaeffer — obviously no ordinary professor — made a gift of $25 million to create the Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics. Around the same time, real estate developer David Dollinger gave $10 million to endow the USC Price School of Public Policy's Master of Real Estate Development (MRED) degree.

Quite a run for Jack Knott: $55 million in big gifts in one year. The guy certainly has the magic touch with donors. 

But now he wants to outdo himself, with the Price School set to launch a $150 million fundraising initiative — no small chunk of change in today’s struggling economy. At a recent gala event, school leaders described their goals of becoming a center for public policy and urban planning and development. Dean Knott said, "With this initiative, the Price School will secure its place as a leader in education and scholarship, and as an agent for positive change in the world."

Aside from financial gain, the Price School has also done well academically, with high rankings as one of the best graduate schools for public affairs majors. Admitted students also have higher GRE and SAT scores and GPAs than ever before.

USC President C. L. "Max" Nikias also stated that the fundraising initiative, which is just a part of the $6 billion Campaign for USC, will help push USC to be a leader in addressing many global issues. "Some are helping unlock the gridlock on our streets and freeways, others are helping us answer the many questions that have emerged from the field of health care, yet others are engaged in the debate on immigration and immigration reform, and they helped us interpret the issues that were debated during the most recent political elections," the president said.

Dean Knott added that these investments in the program will help lead to a more successful university and productive students. "Preeminent by becoming the best, investing in transformative faculty and extraordinary students, distinctive through our interdisciplinary and cross-sector approach to today’s complex issues; state-of-the-art by providing the best technology and facilities for research and education; and impactful by making a positive difference in public policy and society."

Let's hope these brilliant minds can use the extra funds to put this country back on the right track. And who isn't rooting for less gridlock in LA?