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By Degrees partners with whole schools to increase high school graduation and postsecondary readiness rates on Des Moines' north side. Our work begins in kindergarten and follows students through high school graduation, ensuring they’re immersed in an expansive culture of postsecondary education, career exploration and future-focused planning throughout their K-12 experience.


We build intentional partnerships with our schools, community organizations, businesses and postsecondary institutions to uplift students, families and whole neighborhoods.


Founded in 1990 as an independent 501(c)3 nonprofit organization under the name Des Moines “I Have a Dream” Foundation, we originally operated as an affiliate of the National I Have a Dream Network. In December 2018, we disaffiliated from the national network and became an entirely local nonprofit under our new name, By Degrees Foundation.


Since our founding, we've worked to increase high school graduation and postsecondary readiness rates in Des Moines’ under-resourced communities. From 1990 - 2014, we supported three cohorts of 45 students each, working with students and their families from elementary school through high school graduation:

  • Moulton Elementary 5th graders in 1990

  • Homes of Oakridge 1st graders in 1996

  • King Elementary 1st graders in 2006

In the spring of 2018, our King Elementary cohort of students graduated from high school. Of the students who maintained contact with our program, 95% graduated from high school and 70% began postsecondary journeys in the fall of 2018. For students not in our program, these numbers are 80% and 50%, respectively.

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In 2014, we implemented a new model in which we partner with entire schools to:

  1. address the complex obstacles influencing student success;

  2. build a pervasive culture of postsecondary education and careers for students throughout their K-12 experience.

We first established this programing at Findley Elementary (300+ students) in 2014 and have since expanded into Harding Middle (650+ students), where Findley students attend grades 6-8. In 2019, we began our expansion into North High (1,400+ students).


Our vision is to create a K-12 pipeline of supports and services for students from an early age while facilitating a future-focused culture that pervades their entire public education experience.

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Ensure more students graduate from high school prepared for the future.

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