Iowa State and Des Moines Public Schools to expand college opportunity through ‘ISU 4U Promise’

ISU 4U Promise President Leath with students

Iowa State President Steven Leath talks to students at Moulton Extended Learning Center after first announcing the partnership in 2013. File photo by Bob Elbert

AMES, Iowa – Iowa State University and the Des Moines Public School District are working with families and neighborhood organizations to make college more accessible and affordable for students at King Elementary and Moulton Extended Learning Center.

ISU President Steven Leath and DMPS Chief of Human Resources Anne Sullivan will sign the “ISU 4U Promise” agreement at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 13, at Moulton. Leath made a promise two years ago to students at King and Moulton to help them achieve a college education.

“The ISU 4U Promise embodies Iowa State University’s land-grant principle that a college education should be accessible and affordable. We are pleased to provide these capable students from diverse backgrounds with an opportunity to earn admission to Iowa State and a tuition award to ensure that socio-economic challenges do not interfere with access to a college education. A degree from Iowa State holds great value, and we believe these students will bring great value to our university,” Leath said.

This multifaceted partnership will provide educational and teaching assistance as well as provide tuition awards for the ISU 4U Promise program. To qualify for an award, King and Moulton students must meet the following criteria:

  • Meet annual attendance requirements and behavior/disciplinary standards set by DMPS
  • Set annual performance goals with teacher and maintain a portfolio appropriate to grade level
  • Submit a letter of interest to Iowa State at the conclusion of 5th grade

Tuition awards will also be based on total enrollment at King or Moulton schools:

  • 1 year of enrollment = 20 percent tuition award
  • 2 years of enrollment = 40 percent tuition award
  • 3 years of enrollment = 60 percent tuition award
  • 4 years of enrollment = 80 percent tuition award
  • 5+ years of enrollment = 100 percent tuition award

Students who qualify must enroll in coursework during middle and high school necessary to qualify for admission to Iowa State, complete the ACT test as a junior and apply for admission to ISU during their senior year.

“We are fortunate to have many partnerships with Iowa State University that benefit our students, teachers and schools,” DMPS Superintendent Tom Ahart said. “The ISU 4U Promise builds upon that tradition, and will help make the dream of a college education a reality for more of our students.”

More than a financial incentive

Tuition assistance is a major component of the partnership, but the goal is to also build a relationship in which Iowa State and King and Moulton educators and students are learning from each other. Katherine Richardson Bruna, an associate professor of education and project lead for the ISU 4U Promise, says the School of Education is working with principals, teachers, families and neighborhood leaders to develop programming for King, Moulton and organizations that offer after-school activities.

ISU faculty volunteering at Moulton

Iowa State faculty and staff have spent the past two years building the partnership by working with King and Moulton students, teachers and families on various projects, including this meal packaging event in 2014.

“We want teachers and families to realize their students have a chance to come to Iowa State and start to shift the way they think. In that shift, we want them to ask us for help. For teachers, that might mean assistance with literacy, math, or civics.  For families, that might mean assistance with the whole college application process,” Richardson Bruna said.

“We want to be a resource for these schools and families and be responsive to their needs. We also want to learn from them about the knowledge they have to offer that can help us prepare more effective educational professionals. It’s not intended to be a prescription or an imposition, it’s a relationship,” she added.

Richardson Bruna says unlike other promise programs, ISU 4U starts talking with students and families about college as early as kindergarten. Instead of targeting only high-achieving students, the program is open to all students at both schools. There are few restrictions so as not to create additional barriers to a college education, Richardson Bruna said.

Eligibility and cost

Students enrolled in King and Moulton starting with the 2013-2014 academic year are eligible for the ISU 4U Promise. The annual cost of awards could range from $1.9 to $2.4 million, based on projections from the ISU Office of Student Financial Aid. Iowa State will utilize both institutional and private funds to support the initiative. King and Moulton students are likely to be eligible to enroll at Iowa State beginning in fall 2017.   

More information about the ISU 4U Promise is available at: