South L.A. students will have priority admission to Charles Drew University

Students attend the Charles Drew University Saturday Science Academy program in 2010.
(Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

After the Watts riots in 1965, Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science opened as a graduate medical school to educate the minority populations of Los Angeles.

On Wednesday, the school will enter into an agreement with the Los Angeles Unified School District to get South L.A. students into health and medical fields even earlier than graduate school.

The private, nonprofit university lost its residency program in 2006, came close to losing its accreditation in 2009 and has suffered serious financial problems. Now, Drew is expanding its undergraduate program.


As part of that expansion, the university has promised priority admission to students who meet the university’s entrance requirements (which will vary depending on the program) and graduate from one of 20 L.A. Unified high schools in South L.A. — but not from local charter schools or continuation schools.

The Willowbrook university was taken off probation in 2011 and has been operating solvently since then, said university President David Carlisle.

The school has only 79 undergraduate students earning health-related degrees, according to the school’s provost, Steve Michael. But Drew wants to expand to 1,000 bachelor’s degree students in those fields over the next five years by adding more health-related majors, Carlisle said.

This agreement is similar to the one that L.A. Unified announced with Cal State Dominguez Hills earlier this month. The difference is that Cal State entrance requirements already align with L.A. Unified graduation requirements and the school has a larger capacity.

Officials at Drew said different major programs will have different requirements and added that they would give priority admission to students from the L.A. south area schools but could not promise admission to all qualified students.

Neither the university nor the district will help pay for students’ tuition as part of this agreement. Full-time undergraduate students at the university currently pay around $14,000 per year, Carlisle said. Students can apply for federal and state aid, and the school offers scholarships.


Of the students now enrolled in the university, Carlisle said about 80% are from Los Angeles County and 20% are from the county’s service planning area that covers Athens, Compton, Crenshaw, Florence, Hyde Park, Lynwood, Paramount and Watts. As part of the program, medical research faculty from the university will visit local high schools, and students will visit the campus, said Michael, the school’s provost.

That early presence also will help the university recover from years of downturn.

“One of our challenges,” Carlisle said, “is just having people recognize that the university is alive and well.”

There are about 4,700 seniors in the high schools included in the agreement this year, area superintendent Christopher Downing said. One way to improve the graduation rate in the area, he said, is to get students familiar with college options early.

L.A. Unified staff will start visiting schools to tell students about the new agreements next month, Downing said.

And in turn, he said, “We think this is going to assist the university in increasing the number of undergraduates.”

Reach Sonali Kohli at or on Twitter @Sonali_Kohli.