Two weeks ago, President Andrew Hamilton discussed the possibility of Los Angeles being NYU’s latest study-away site with a group of administrators. The expansion was then confirmed by spokesperson John Beckman who said that NYU is currently looking into real estate in the area for housing, classes and other student activities. But another addition to NYU’s seemingly endless expansion of away sites also speaks to a bigger trend: NYU’s race to swiftly scale the ranks of the nation’s top universities.
The addition of a Los Angeles campus is not a surprising move. The university’s study abroad programs are crucial to both its experience and its admissions appeal. With 3,000 students choosing to study abroad each year, the university is unique for its array of options, which, unlike most other universities, are actually based in NYU satellite campuses rather than exchanges with other universities. An LA campus provides a tangible throughline between the west coast and the east coast, and the logistic practicality of LA as a satellite location in terms of business opportunities and experiences for students is obvious.
But the history of how NYU came to be known as a global campus is linked to its desire to increase its prestige. NYU’s president before Hamilton, John Sexton, was behind several global pushes for the university. During Sexton’s time as president, both NYU Shanghai and NYU Abu Dhabi were opened, making NYU present on six continents. In his first speech as president in 2002, Sexton explained that he intended to oversee what he called a “category change” in terms of NYU’s ranking and prestige, in order to establish NYU as “one of the first exemplars of what universities will be in this new century.” And this plan seemed to be successful, considering that under Sexton, NYU’s “Global Network” became a part of its brand.
As NYU cements its reputation as a global university, the undergraduate acceptance rate is also dramatically shifting, indicating a potential push toward heightening its prestige and becoming an extremely selective university. NYU’s acceptance rate dropped from 28 percent last year to 19 percent this year, after falling from 33 percent in 2013 — cutting the acceptance rate by almost half in just five years. It’s also worth mentioning that having a large applicant pool benefits universities in terms of capital. In 2016, NYU made about $2.9 million through application fees alone. Not only does a university that offers desirable resources and unmatched opportunities attract the best-performing students, but there is also much to gain by appealing to a vast applicant pool.
The announcement of an LA campus follows another drastic, unconventional step that NYU took this past summer — tuition-free medical school. The NYU School of Medicine announced that it will be the first top-ranked institution in the United States to pay tuition for all current and incoming medical students. The implementation of free tuition was part of an effort to encourage more students to pursue medicine in order to combat a growing shortage of physicians — but it is predicted that the increased number of applicants will cause NYU’s acceptance rate to drop to just six percent, which is significant considering that U.S. News and World Report currently ranks the NYU School of Medicine as the third best medical school for research in the country. And naturally, a distinctive characteristic like free tuition is an aspect that could help in outshining other top-ranked universities in the eyes of prospective students.
Solidifying a high ranking could be another reason for creating an LA campus: to beat out NYU’s competition. In the field of film, one of NYU’s top competitors is the University of Southern California — located in the heart of LA. The Hollywood Reporter lists USC as the number one film school in the U.S., with NYU as a close second. The unique chance for a film student to establish their roots in the two film capitals of the U.S. in one fell swoop during their undergraduate years could tip the scales in NYU’s favor, allowing it to potentially surpass USC. Expanding upon a program that is already considered one of the nation’s best and situating itself right next to its competition sends a clear message about what NYU is seeking to accomplish.
We, as NYU students, can enhance our education through the investments that NYU chooses to make, including this LA study-away site. And with each announcement, it is interesting to track NYU’s development and witness its progress. In the midst of so many other top ranking schools, it seems that NYU is finding its own innovative way to be a worthy competitor.
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A version of this appeared in the Monday, Nov. 19 print edition. Email the WSN Editorial Board at [email protected].