USC Neighborhood Academic Initiative Expands to East Los Angeles Schools

August 16, 2013

Contact: Eddie North-Hager at (213) 740-9335 or

For the first time in its history, the USC Neighborhood Academic Initiative will expand beyond South Los Angeles to include more than 100 sixth-graders near the university’s Health Sciences Campus in East Los Angeles.

Working with LAUSD students around the University Park Campus south of downtown Los Angeles, USC has pioneered a system that over the past 15 years graduates 99 percent of its students, with 83 percent enrolling as freshmen in four-year colleges.

“The USC Neighborhood Academic Initiative reflects USC’s longstanding commitment to our surrounding neighborhoods,” said USC President C. L. Max Nikias. “As a community, we stand by these students over the years and become partners in their education and growth. Because of this program, hundreds of students have attended outstanding colleges throughout the country.”

All 66 sixth-graders at Murchison Elementary School will participate and another 35 will join the program from nearby El Sereno Elementary. They will attend Saturday NAI classes, tutoring and other workshops on USC’s Health Sciences Campus in Boyle Heights. Eventually the program will ramp up to serve about 600 students from sixth through 12th grade.

“We know what we do works, and in Boyle Heights, like in South L.A., there is a critical need for college access programs,” said Kim Thomas-Barrios, the executive director of USC Educational Partnerships who oversees NAI. “These families have a great desire for their children to go to college and are hungry for people who believe in them.”

Initial funding to launch the expansion comes from the Gilbert Foundation with the majority of the costs paid for by USC.

USC NAI is a seven-year enrichment program that prepares low-income, minority students living in the neighborhoods surrounding USC’s campuses for success at a college or university. The students are not chosen because of their prior academic success, but because of their commitment to succeed.

To date, 745 South Los Angeles students have graduated from the NAI program and gone to college.

Upon entering USC NAI, the sixth-graders and their parents pledge to attend full-day classes on most Saturdays at USC until high school graduation, as well as intensive math and English classes before and after school in high school.

Nearly every one of these students are the first in their families to attend college. Upon graduation, nearly 100 percent qualify for Pell Grants, which is awarded to low-income undergraduate students, Thomas-Barrios said.

Students who are accepted to USC are rewarded with a 4.5-year full tuition scholarship. USC NAI graduates also have gone on to attend Yale University, Brown University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of California at Berkeley, Stanford University and Morehouse College, among many others.

The parents of NAI students also are required to attend day-long workshops and training on issues such as financial literacy, college retention and nutrition.

Arnulfo and Jesus Moran, along with their parents who work at a car wash and as a housekeeper, made a commitment to participate in the NAI program. Today, the twins are sophomores at Harvard University and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, respectively.

Lizette Zarate graduated from the Foshay Learning Center as part of the USC Neighborhood Academic Initiative in 1998 and was admitted to USC, where she earned her degree in English. She went on to get her master’s and doctorate in education from Loyola Marymount University, doing her dissertation on the NAI program. That reunion led to her eventual hire as the NAI curriculum and instruction specialist.

“I am excited about the expansion of NAI because I know first-hand the transformative experience that NAI is for its participants,” Zarate said. “As a graduate of the program, I am forever thankful for the educational opportunities that NAI offered me. They not only prepared me for college, but they paid for my education and made sure I persisted. It is wonderful to know that more students will have access to the same opportunities I had via NAI.”


The University of Southern California has been a proud and active member of its community since 1880. USC believes its strength as a great university depends on its ability to be a good neighbor. USC is dedicated to supporting healthy, vibrant and engaged communities around its University Park and Health Sciences campuses. To this end, USC supports families and youth, promotes small business development and economic growth and instills in its students a profound commitment to participate in civic life.

• USC invests $35 million annually to support community initiatives, serving 40,000 community members.
• USC students, staff and faculty devote more than 650,000 hours in the community each year.
• USC has adopted 15 neighborhood elementary, middle and high schools as part of its Family of Schools program, sharing with these schools its students and educational resources.
• USC’s local hire program puts $5 million in annual salaries back into the neighborhood.
• USC taught 60 small business owners the skills to obtain $61 million in capital, contracts and loans.
• USC has more than 3,000 children in college access programs and more than 500 children in pre-school programs.
• The USC Good Neighbors Campaign raises more than a $1 million in donations every year for community programs through staff and faculty donations.

These efforts have been recognized on a national level by the Carnegie Foundation, the president of the American Council on Education, the World Health Organization and the “Saviors of Our Cities” survey of best university civic partnerships. Community outreach was a key factor in TIME magazine naming USC College of the Year in 2000.