More than 70 percent of people who begin the process of earning a high school equivalency diplomas (HSED) don’t end up getting one. For most, it’s not a matter of ability or motivation. Their lives are complicated, resources are scarce, and they lack the support many of us take for granted.

United Way has decided to do something different to break the cycle. In 2015, United Way of Central Iowa, DMACC and community partners launched Bridges to Success, with the goal of helping 10,000 central Iowans earn their HSED by the end of the year 2020.

A high school diploma or equivalency is much more than a matter of pride. Consider this:

  • Nearly 34,000 central Iowans do not have their high diploma or equivalency.
  • In Iowa, a person without a high school diploma is 3 times more likely to be unemployed than someone who does have it.
  • During his or her working life, an Iowa high school graduate earns $707,400 more than a high school dropout.
  • 21% of central Iowans without a diploma or equivalency live in poverty.

Without a high school equivalency, few adults are able to move into a sustainable career pathway and financial self-sufficiency. They experience limited job opportunities, slow earnings potential, poorer quality of life and higher health risks.

The community suffers too. Central Iowa employers can’t find enough qualified candidates to fill their open positions. Fifty percent of Iowa jobs are classified as middle-skilled, but only 33 percent of the labor pool has the appropriate skillset. Plus, adults without a high school diploma are twice as likely to receive public assistance from the government—24 percent receive food assistance, and 43 percent are on Medicaid. A HSED would put these individuals on the road to better-paying jobs—earning 38 percent more—where they can support themselves and their families.

If there are so many reasons to earn a HSED, why are so many people dropping out after they begin? United Way of Central Iowa completed a comprehensive student barrier assessment and found that academic anxiety and financial concerns are the top two reasons. Life circumstances—often beyond an individual’s control—get in the way of their desire to improve.

With this data in mind, United Way of Central Iowa developed an innovative, evidence-based approach to support students through the process from start to finish. Bridges to Success includes these core elements:

  • Full-time instructors who have been trained to teach adults with numerous educational barriers
  • Increased in-class time for instruction, academic support and career pathway navigation
  • Work-ready curriculum in the areas of greatest job potential in central Iowa
  • Extensive support services, including child care, transportation and out-of-class success coaching
  • An early-alert system that instructors can use to immediately notify career pathway navigators and success coaches when a student is facing challenges

Through Bridges to Success, more central Iowans will be qualified to meet the growing demand for middle-skilled workers, our economy will experience significant gains and central Iowa will become a more inclusive and productive community.

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UWCI_100th_Logo_-_color_-_No_URL.pngThe Bridges to Success program is
a DMACC_LC_287 Dec. 2011.jpgcolloboration between United Way of Central Iowa and Des Moines Area Community College. 



Additional funding provided through a 2016 $100,000 matching challenge Leadership Grant from the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines.

TAGS: Income

Renee Miller

About The Author: Renee Miller

Renee Miller is the United Way of Central Iowa's Chief Community Impact Officer.