Media Highlights

IA Governor Branstad, Opportunity Nation and Civic Leaders Address Growing Problem of Youth

by STEMblog   •  

Tommy Cornelis, Reporter

DES MOINES, Iowa – Civic, education, nonprofit and political leaders from across Central Iowa participated in Opportunity in Iowa: Closing the Gaps Between Youth and Economic Success, a forum held at Des Moines Area Community College’s Ankeny Campus on Friday, April 5. The event was cohosted by Opportunity Nation, a national campaign dedicated to expanding economic mobility and jumpstarting the American Dream and its local affiliate, Opportunity Iowa.
Today, 6.7 million American young people are not in school and not working. This is a personal tragedy for those youth and a dire predicament for the economic well-being of the United States,” said Opportunity Nation’s Executive Director Mark Edwards, who addressed the Iowa forum. Opportunity Nation measures opportunity through its Opportunity Index, the first quantitative measure of educational, economic and civic health at the state and county levels.
Overall, Iowa performed well, ranking 7th highest in the country on the Index. But the state is struggling with high rates of youth unemployment. Currently, nearly one in five young people in Central Iowa are not in school and not working – more than three times the state’s unemployment rate.
“We must identify those youth who are most likely to drop out of school and take corrective action before that happens,” said DMACC President Rob Denson, who hosted the forum. “We need to be just as good anticipating youth disengagement as we are at predicting the weather, knowing we will be wrong sometimes, but right most of the time.”
“The zip code you are born into today is one of the biggest determinants of where you’ll end up in life,” Edwards said. “That’s not the American Dream. We have to come together to expand economic mobility and opportunity for more Americans, regardless of where they live. Opportunity Iowa is leading the country in its cross-sector efforts to do just that.”
Opportunity Iowa also released county-specific findings at the forum. Jasper Polk and Marshall counties all have Opportunity Scores lower than the state average. Opportunity Iowa is working on roadmaps to increase Opportunity Scores in those three counties.
Gov. Terry Branstad, an advocate for the Opportunity Iowa initiative, emphasized opportunity as a core Iowa value in his Condition of the State address earlier this year. He delivered the welcoming address at the forum. Iowans are entering a period of unprecedented opportunity,” Branstad said. All of us in government and the private sector have it within our grasp to help foster this state’s greatest economic expansion and quality of life improvement in modern history. I am pleased that Opportunity Iowa and Opportunity Nation are lifting up this important issue.”
Other speakers included Opportunity Nation’s Mark Edwards; J. Barry Griswell, CEO of the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines; Tom Urban from the Urban Core initiative at Capital Crossroads; and Scott Raecker, executive director of Character Counts.
Several young people who have benefitted from opportunities by mentors, educators, schools and community colleges also shared their stories. After attending Opportunity Nation’s first national summit in the fall of 2011, President Denson worked with community leaders including Griswell to launch Opportunity Iowa, highlighting the Opportunity Index at several events. He enlisted the support of the governor who proclaimed Feb. 2012 “Opportunity Month” in Iowa.
About Opportunity Nation
Opportunity Nation is a bi-partisan, multi-sector national campaign comprised of more than 250 businesses, educational institutions, nonprofits, civic organizations and individuals working together to expand economic mobility and close the opportunity gap in America.
Des Moines Area Community College, a public institution serving the educational and career training needs of Iowans, is committed to the lifelong success of its students. As Iowa’s largest two-year college, DMACC offers 153 programs, certificates and transfer degrees, annually serving more than 75,000 credit and noncredit students on six campuses and in three learning centers. Thanks to college-wide innovation, new programs and affordable tuition, DMACC has experienced record growth and is the 15th fastest growing two-year college in America. 
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