A- A+

PSERP Helps Youth Achieve Education Goals


May 3, 2023

Katie is an extraordinarily driven individual. She is currently a nursing student at Des Moines Area Community College Urban Campus. When she isn’t studying or working the night shift at an area hospital, all her attention goes into taking care of her nine-year-old sister who has severe medical issues.

Between balancing school, work and family responsibilities, Katie does not have much time for herself. She knew she needed someone else to lean on, someone to check in on her so that she can stay on track for her degree. That’s why she applied for the Post-Secondary Education Retention Program (PSERP).

What is PSERP?

PSERP supports highly at-risk youth overcome obstacles in order to achieve their educational and career goals. This vital workforce development program provides additional monetary assistance above and beyond what students earn through work and traditional financial aid. There are also cash bonuses paid out for good grades which are checked at midterm and final. The program buys one textbook per semester and provides a laptop to the neediest students. There is also targeted case management which involves a continual needs assessment followed by specific steps to achieve goals. Over the years, PSERP advocates have helped with finding affordable housing, reliable transportation, mental health services, mentors and tutors, as well as academic or career counseling. The program meets young people where they are and walks with them while they pursue their dreams through education.

I am a current PSERP Education Advocate who works directly with Katie and other students in the program. With an office at the Iowa Homeless Youth Centers (an agency of YSS) located in Downtown Des Moines (DSM), my main job is to support students in every way possible. In addition to providing financial assistance and individualized case management, advocates are these students’ cheerleaders, helping youth chart out and follow their plans to succeed.

Success Through PSERP

Since its establishment, PSERP has helped scores of young adults get ahead by dramatically changing the trajectory of their lives. Studies indicate that nationwide among the cohort served by PSERP and 88% express a desire to attend college. While 55% of students enroll, only 10% successfully complete an educational credential. For about fifteen years, PSERP’s success rate has been almost 60%. This is amazing considering the desperate circumstances of the students who are being served and the reality is that nationwide the community college four-year graduation rate is only 22%.

Despite this stunning success, there is so much more that could be accomplished through strategic investment of community resources.

PSERP contributes a great deal to our community, and we could have a transformational influence by helping more of our most marginalized youth. Given the number of young adults in need of assistance and the magnitude of success we enjoy, our program is positioned to profoundly impact Greater Des Moines.

Post-secondary education contributes to our community through lower unemployment, higher household incomes, greater acquisition of wealth, expanded rates of home ownership, reducing racial disparities, decreasing rates of incarceration and encouraging greater levels of civic participation.

Education improves the quality of life both immediately and for future generations. Children of educated parents have much lower rates of adverse childhood experiences, enjoy better health and are far more likely to finish college themselves.

PSERP is transforming the lives of young Central Iowans and Katie is proof of its impact. She’s determined to succeed and now has greater resources available in order to reach her potential.

Job opportunities and career resources are abundant in Greater Des Moines (DSM). Whether you're looking to find an internship, a job, develop professionally or grow as a student, we have the resources to help you thrive.

Gunner Onkst

Gunner Onkst is a first-year student at Drake University. He chose Drake to study Multimedia Journalism as well as Rhetoric, Media and Social Change. Currently interning at Youth Shelter Services as a writing intern, he is grateful for the opportunities and experiences he gains during his time there.