Working with our neighbors to build a strong community

Neighborhood Academic Initiative

USC Trustee Joan Payden has donated $5 million to expand the university’s Neighborhood Academic Initiative.“Joan Payden understands the power of education to inspire, provide hope and build bridges to previously unforeseen opportunities.”
C. L. Max Nikias

USC Trustee Joan Payden has donated $5 million to expand the university’s Neighborhood Academic Initiative.



USC’s Neighborhood Academic Initiative (NAI) is a rigorous, seven-year pre-college enrichment program designed to prepare low-income neighborhood students for admission to a college or university. Those who complete the program, meet USC’s competitive admission requirements and choose to attend USC are rewarded with a full 4.5-year financial package, minus loans.The  program was established in 1989 and enrolled its first scholars in the 1991-92 academic year. Pulling together private as well as corporate resources, the NAI encompasses three major components: the USC Pre-College Enrichment Academy, the Family Development Institute and the Retention Program.

The academy offers enhanced classes at USC on weekday mornings, the Saturday Academy, after-school tutoring, remedial and enrichment sessions, workshops on time management and study skills, PSAT and SAT1 preparation, cultural field trips and recreational activities.

Before school each day throughout the academic year, NAI scholars meet on the University Park campus from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. for enhanced classes taught by teachers from their home schools. The scholars receive full academic credit for these courses, which cover the following subject matter:

  • Grade 7: pre-algebra (students must complete Algebra 1 prior to graduation from 8th grade)
  • Grades 7 and 8: language arts
  • Grade 9: English and geometry
  • Grade 10: English and algebra
  • Grade 11: American literature/expository composition and math analysis/trigonometry
  • Grade 12: Advanced-placement English literature and either advanced-placement statistics or calculus

Supplementing these early-morning classes, NAI scholars attend the Saturday Academy, which meets for four hours every Saturday to provide enriched as well as remedial instruction in English/language arts and mathematics. Courses incorporate lectures, tutoring and small-group exercises, and are taught by professional teachers, paid and volunteer tutors and teaching assistants from USC’s student body, and NAI alumni. In addition, peer tutoring and cooperative learning activities maximize opportunities for scholars to learn from one another and reinforce the knowledge they have gained.

NAI scholars also receive two hours per week of structured after-school tutoring.

Family Development Institute

Because students are more likely to succeed in school when their parents are involved with the educational process, the NAI Family Development Institute offers seminars for parents/guardians or advocates of NAI scholars. Topics are developed with input from parents, staff and teachers, and have included adolescent/child development, effective communication, creating a positive learning environment in the home, fostering educational success and conflict resolution, in addition to issues of special concern to parents of seniors, such as the college application process and financial aid.

For scholars to be eligible for the NAI scholarships, their parents must commit to attending 80 percent of these seminars, which meet on the University Park campus for four hours on Saturday mornings about 12 times a year. If parents are unable to attend due to work or other obligations, they may send an advocate – such as an aunt or uncle, grandparent, godparent, adult sibling, neighbor or friend who is involved with the child.

As part of the Family Development Institute, parents elect a leadership committee that meets bimonthly to coordinate communication with the group at-large. NAI parents also participate in field trips as well as in fundraising activities.

Retention Component

While the Neighborhood Academic Initiative’s primary goal is to get neighborhood students into USC with a full financial package, the obligation doesn’t stop there. The Retention Component helps ensure that a student’s hard work getting into USC or another institution results in a degree.

For students enrolled at USC, NAI staff members work in partnership with the Center for Academic Support’s Undergraduate Success Program to help ensure the success of the students they have known intimately over the previous seven years. Scholars attend special seminars, meet with counselors and, when necessary, receive interventions based on mid-term grades. In addition, the Undergraduate Success Program offers a mentoring program that pairs incoming NAI scholars with advanced scholars who can help with the transition to college.

Retention Component staff also offer supportive services to NAI scholars attending other universities or transferring from community colleges to four-year schools.


Kim Thomas-Barrios
Executive Director, USC Educational Partnerships
(213) 740-6313


2015 NAI Gala Invitation

In The News -2014 Media Clip Book

USC News: Trustee’s gift widens the reach of USC’s Neighborhood Academic Initiative

USC News: Teens take pride in production of Jane Austen play

Diverse: University of Southern California Inviting Neighbors Over for Education

NBC-4: South LA Foshay Learning Center is among top 3 high schools that sent most students to USC this Fall 

KPCC 89.3: South L.A. high school grads win Charles Dickens essay contest

LA Times: Winning essays take 2 South L.A. students to Dickens conference

USC Communities: NAI students win Charles Dickens scholarship

ABC-7: Salute to inner-city students

USC News: NAI honors record number of young graduates

USC News: A Youthful Twist to Hamlet

Daily Trojan: Gene Simmons visits NAI

USC News: Playing it Forward

USC News: Jasmine Torres fosters the care of others

USC News: The spirit of giving 1.6 million times over

Daily Trojan: USC NAI plans to expand 

LA Times: USC scholarship program keeps parents in the 7-year process

USC News: Trojans in training, in East Los Angeles

La Opinion: Guiaran estudiantes hasta la universidad

The Wave: USC expands NAI program to Eastside 

USC News: Perserverance pays off for NAI Graduates

Boyle Heights Beat: USC college program comes to Ramona Gardens

USC News: NAI expands to East LA

USC News: NAI Scholars go behind the scenes at Univision- USC News

Daily Trojan: NAI’s elective summer schedule includes filmmaking, guitar, art, and more

USC News: NAI graduates celebrate at USC Gala

K-ABC7-TV: USC NAI students graduate

Telemundo: Seguiran estudios superiores

Hoy: USC ayuda a estudiantes de bajor recursos a llegar a la universidad

Noticias 62: Jovenes pueden aspirar a tener un mejor futuro 

USC News: NAI student serves as spokesperson for national initiative

Despierta America: NAI twin brothers head to Harvard and West Point

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“I’ve been to many, probably hundreds of universities across the country and I’ve never seen anything like [the NAI]. It’s the best example for a university engaging with its minority community in the neighborhoods immediately surrounding it … It’s truly amazing; I commend it. [Clinton] recommended I tell you about it.” -Henry Cisneros, former HUD secretary, at the Mexican American Leadership Initiative event honoring Hillary Clinton
November 9, 2013