From left are DMACC President Rob Denson, UNI President Mark Nook, and Jill and Mark Oman at today's announcement at the DMACC Urban Campus in Des MoinesPhoto special to the Business Record

A new partnership between Des Moines Area Community College and the University of Northern Iowa has received a significant boost with a $1 million donation from two UNI alumni — Mark and Jill Oman. 

The West Des Moines couple this morning joined DMACC President Rob Denson and UNI President Mark Nook at the DMACC Urban Campus north of downtown in announcing the gift, which will be used to support the “UNI at DMACC” 2+2 program. The new 2+2 degree program, which begins this fall semester, will enable DMACC Urban Campus students — one of the most diverse college student populations in the state — to complete a UNI degree in Des Moines with classes at the Urban Campus.  

The $1 million donation to the DMACC Foundation effectively pays UNI’s annual lease of $500,000 for the initial two years of the program, Denson said. "This is truly an amazing gift,” he said. “And in these challenging economic times, working to increase educational opportunities for diverse populations, this puts action behind our words.”

The Omans previously donated $1.1 million to their alma mater through the UNI Annual Fund in 2014 and also created two scholarships that support students studying business administration or to become teachers. The couple also gave $10 million to UNI in 2010.  

Announced in November, the UNI at DMACC program will enable Urban Campus students to seamlessly complete a four-year UNI degree after receiving their associate degree, with UNI classes taken at the Urban Campus. 

“UNI is working very well with DMACC,” Denson said, “and we anticipate that other friends of UNI and DMACC will step up to help close the gap and complete this transaction in record time.” The goal is to raise $2.5 million in endowment funds to support scholarships for DMACC students to complete UNI degrees. 

Early last year, construction began on a 60,000-square-foot Student Services and STEM building on the downtown campus of Des Moines Area Community College. The bright green insulation paper wrapping the building shell stood out behind Oman and the other speakers as they talked about the UNI at DMACC program. Click here to read a Business Record Insider article about the campus overhaul project. 

Mark Oman, managing director of Oman Capital, former chairman of the Greater Des Moines Partnership and a retired Wells Fargo executive, was a first-generation college student at UNI, as was his brother, David Oman.  

“We feel very strongly that education is the key to opportunity,” Mark Oman said. “And that is true whether you're talking about graduating from high school, earning a two-year degree, learning a trade or achieving a four-year or an advanced degree. Education is the key to opportunity — opportunity for the students, and opportunity for society more broadly. This partnership between DMACC and UNI will increase access to opportunity for the students of this campus. And we're very excited to help make it happen.” 

The new partnership is a recognition that many of DMACC’s Urban Campus students are bound by their jobs, families and communities to stay in Des Moines, which prevents them from completing a four-year degree. Fifty-two percent of DMACC Urban Campus’ population is students of color, with an average age of 28.

State Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad spoke about how protesters prevailed years ago when the DMACC board and the city had considered closing down the small Urban Campus that was located on Fifth Street downtown because it was viewed as unnecessary. 

Abdul-Samad said the protesters of today advancing Black Lives Matter are equally game changers. 

“Let’s look at the future, and let’s look at, as what I call them, the game changers, for their contributions today,” he said. “We need to get some of them onto campus — that means we need a set of small scholarships.” 

Courses for the Bachelor of Liberal Studies degree will initially be offered in an online format, with UNI staff present to support students in all aspects of the program. The potential exists to expand to additional offerings between the two schools.  

“Through their gift, the Omans are creating invaluable, meaningful change for our students,” UNI President Mark Nook said. “Their generosity will provide necessary support for the Urban Campus building project and help create a modern educational space to help students focus and succeed.” 

For more information about the UNI at DMACC program, visit the website here.