Opportunity Iowa

Iowa’s largest community college tackles the skills gap and leads statewide push to advance economic mobility


Inspired by the first National Opportunity Summit in November 2011, Rob Denson, President of Des Moines Area Community College and Opportunity Nation Leadership Council Chair, along with J. Barry Griswell, who was then CEO of the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines, swiftly launched Opportunity Iowa.

This statewide initiative is modeled after Opportunity Nation’s bipartisan, cross-sector approach and is similarly focused on engaging, educating and employing youth.

“Iowa is entering a period of unprecedented opportunity and we don’t want to miss it. Our youth should be prepared. I am grateful that Opportunity Nation and our local Opportunity Iowa are helping Iowans focus on the urgent need to help more young people get the education and job training they need to succeed.”

– Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, Opportunity Iowa Forum, April 2013

This group leverages the Opportunity Index to deepen public conversation and spur cross-sector actions that help engage youth; train Iowans for good jobs; and reduce barriers to upward mobility. The Index enables local leaders to convene diverse groups and develop concrete goals related to Index indicators and Opportunity Nation’s call to action for youth employment, We Got This to expand opportunity such as:

  • Reducing unemployment and youth disconnection
  • Increasing on-time high school graduation rates
  • Boosting post-secondary completion rates


  • Opportunity Iowa made expanding opportunity a statewide priority by asking Governor Terry Branstad to proclaim February 2012 “Opportunity in Iowa,” a step that heightened the visibility and urgency of this goal.
  • The Governor again emphasized opportunity in his 2013 Condition of the State Address entitled “Our Opportunity. Our Iowa.” He also spoke at an Opportunity Iowa forum in April 2013 that focused on connecting youth to education and career pathways.
  • In 2013, the Iowa state legislature approved $23.5 million more for community colleges, including $5.5 million for adult education – investments supported by Opportunity Iowa.
  • A 2013 forum co-hosted by Opportunity Nation, Opportunity Iowa: Closing the Gaps Between Youth and Economic Success, brought together more than 200 business, education, youth and nonprofit leaders to focus on Iowa’s Opportunity Scores and ways to improve them. This forum has spurred several collaborations, including a short-term skills program with leading local employer Vermeer for displaced workers, and a summer youth employment initiative.
  • Opportunity Iowa developed an online community map to serve as a resource pipeline for youth. The Opportunity Compass highlights educational, employment, and volunteer opportunities for 16-25 year olds, starting with the state’s largest county, Polk County. The campaign plans to replicate the design throughout Iowa.

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