Lessons Learned: Goodwill Excel Center - Central & Southern Indiana

Author: Leigh Lynes

Luis Tolentino in graduation gown, holding a toddler. Credit: Goodwill Excel Center Central And Southern Indiana
Photo: Goodwill Excel Center Central and Southern Indiana

Key Takeaways

  • The results of the Excel Center study show the program significantly improves labor market outcomes. Those who earned their Core-40 High School diploma from the Excel Center were 12.2 percentage points more likely to be employed in the formal sector than those who applied but never enrolled and those who enrolled at the Excel Center but did not complete the program.
  • Excel Center graduates saw a 38% increase in their earnings 5 years after applying to the Excel Center.
  • Excel Center graduates are 53% more likely to be employed in the health sector than those who did not graduate.


The Goodwill Excel Center of Central and Southern Indiana operates 15 tuition-free, public charter high schools that support adult learners in completing their state-certified high school diploma. The Excel Center provides small classes on a flexible schedule, assistance with transportation, on-site childcare, and life coaching to help students navigate challenges, develop skills, and plan for their future.  

To evaluate the impact of the Excel Center on degree completion, labor market and other outcomes, LEO researchers analyzed data for 10,114 people who had applied to the Excel Center between January 2013 and June 2015. 1,402 of these applicants enrolled and completed the Excel Center program, earning their diploma. 3,596 applicants never enrolled, and the final 5,116 applicants enrolled but did not complete the program.  

The researchers linked Excel Center application records with education and labor market data from the Indiana Management Performance Hub. LEO also used earnings and employment data for the five-year period following the students’ application to the Excel Center to analyze changes in earnings over time.

What We Learned

The results of the Excel Center of Central and Southern Indiana study suggest that graduates make more money, work in higher opportunity jobs, and are enrolled in college more than their peers. Graduates were 11 percentage points more likely to be employed in the formal labor sector. Additionally, they saw a 38% increase in their earnings in the 5-year period following their application to the Excel Center--$12,300 average annual income as compared to $8,900 average annual income for applicants who did not enroll in the Excel Center or who enrolled but did not complete the program. 

Importantly, data from the Excel Center indicates that graduating with a high school diploma helps adults develop skills that they would not have acquired in a traditional General Equivalency Degree (GED) program. The study data shows that graduates of the Excel Center, unlike their peers, tend to switch career industries after graduating—suggesting that the new skills they learned open avenues to new types of jobs. Researchers found that graduates of the program were 53% more likely to be employed in the health sector than individuals who enrolled in the program but dropped out. Additionally, research shows that Excel Center graduates were 43 percentage points more likely to earn a
certificate and 21 percentage points more likely to earn college credits than non-graduates.

Where We’re Going

Additional questions emerged during the Excel Center of Central and Southern Indiana study, particularly around completion rates. Despite the high returns that come from graduating from the Excel Center, most students who begin the program never finish—completion rate is only 28%. This may be due in part to low perceived returns to education or challenges adult students experience with juggling school, work, family, and other obligations.  

To gain a better understanding of what helps students persist through the program, LEO is conducting a randomized controlled trial (RCT) study of the program offered by the Excel Center of Central Texas. Researchers will compare outcomes for students who receive encouragement and motivational messages via a text message system with outcomes for students who meet regularly with a career and college readiness coach.

Ongoing Impact

One barrier Goodwill Excel Center has been facing is expanding to other states because most states have policies that you cannot go to high school if you are over the age of 21. So, the Goodwill Excel Center went on a mission to change state policies. And what did they find was the key to unlocking state policy? The evidence they built with LEO. For example, to support this scaling effort, LEO submitted written testimony to the Arizona legislature advocating for evidence building and use of evidence in policy making. And in August 2021, Arizona Governor, Doug Ducey, announced the state is investing $12 million for Goodwill Excel Centers. This is evidence in action!

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