Just in time for 2024 elections, USC opens a major public policy center in Washington

In a major expansion of its Washington footprint, USC is opening a public policy institute — just in time for the 2024 elections — where students can immerse themselves in learning about the national and political issues that will affect their lives.

USC President Carol Folt said the moment has come for the university to cross a bridge from the West, where USC is well known, to the nation’s capital, where students can study in the heart of democracy.

“They’re deeply, deeply interested in trying to be part of the great democracy they’re in,” Folt said. “More than that, universities have a responsibility to take the incredible work of our faculty, staff and programs and use it for public good.”

The opening of the Leonard D. Schaeffer Institute for Public Policy & Government, comes one year after USC opened its Capital Campus in the city’s Dupont Circle neighborhood. The institute is funded with a $59-million gift from Leonard and Pamela Schaeffer.

The mission of the institute will be to train new generations of public leaders and advance evidence-based research to shape policy, a university statement said. Folt emphasized the imperative of addressing the nation’s political divide with students.

“One of the best things that we can do is train citizens for tomorrow and build democracy we all believe in,” she said.

The institute’s announcement is being made during the 2024 election year, which Folt said is important for students to have firsthand experience in a place where “great thinkers are working with policymakers to address national issues” and debate them.

As with the campus USC Schaeffer Center, the Washington Schaeffer Institute will be a collaboration between the USC Price School and the USC Mann School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, to broaden studies into health-related topics.

Leonard Schaeffer is chairman and chief executive of WellPoint, now Elevance, a medicare insurance firm. The philanthropist also established the Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics in 2009 and the Schaeffer Fellows in Government Service program in 2014.

Dana Goldman, dean of the USC Price School, will become the director and lead the Schaeffer Institute.

At a time when science is under attack, the institute will delve into nonpartisan, evidence-based policy issues, Goldman said, while helping forge a new understanding about how government works.

Young people, he said, “have an enormous distrust of government and yet, government is responsible for the future of our nation.”

He said the institute will delve into the intricacies of policymaking.

A student spoke to Goldman about their concern with the public health crisis of obesity, for example. The student suggested that obesity could be addressed by passing laws to eliminate vending machines in schools or making fast-food chains illegal, Goldman said.

“There’s a more sophisticated policy around what we do about a public health crisis like obesity. You can’t just remove vending machines because it depends on what’s in the surrounding community,” he said. “So one policy without the other won’t do any good.”

He believes popular areas of interest for students will be sustainability, climate change and healthcare.

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