"I know we have the image of having these high-end Prada-shopping students. But frankly, we don't have enough of those to support a single retailer at that level. Sixty percent of our students are on financial aid," she said.
USC officials have toured similar projects around the country. They say they have been especially impressed with the University of Pennsylvania's success in bringing shops and housing to nearby low-income areas of West Philadelphia and its ability to help reduce crime there over the last 15 years.
Experts say USC is late in joining a national trend of urban universities becoming active in developing shopping and entertainment areas near campus. Such upgrades in retail and housing can also make a difference in the competition for students and faculty, many of whom look for good cinemas and bike stores, as well as classrooms and labs, they said.
More colleges "are fulfilling a responsibility to provide better services for students, whether in housing or retail opportunities. At the same time, universities are fulfilling a responsibility for developing an area around the university," said Sal Rinella, a consultant who is past president of the Society for College and University Planning.