Goodwill Excel Center - Central & Southern Indiana


  • Goodwill of Central and Southern Indiana - Indianapolis, Indiana

Focus Areas

  • Education
  • Self-Sufficiency

“With limited public and private resources available to families living in poverty, we owe it to them to use these resources on opportunities that we know will work to improve their well-being. Research can produce evidence on what is working so that families can utilize schools like the Excel Center to get the education needed to improve their economic and social mobility.”

Betsy Delgado, Vice President of Mission and Education Initiatives at Goodwill of Central and Southern Indiana

The Issue

Economically, intellectually, socially—education is worthwhile. 

In 2018, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the weekly earnings of those with professional degrees tripled the earnings of those without high school diplomas. For adults who don’t graduate from high school, average weekly earnings hover around $520. Adults who have a high school diploma, on the other hand, earn an average of $712 per week. 

If graduates and non-graduates maintain steady employment for 50 weeks each year, high school graduates earn $9,600 more annually than those who drop out. That’s a lot of money. Money that can be used to pay for rent, childcare, or more education.

And those with high school diplomas are also less likely to be unemployed. The unemployment rate for high school graduates is about 5%, compared with 7% for people without a diploma. 

Still, as of 2019, 31 million American adults had not earned their high school diploma. And while researchers agree that completing high school leads to better economic outcomes, it’s unclear whether or not a high school degree promises the same benefits for adults who have already dropped out. 

Similarly, in many states, adults who have aged out of the traditional high school system are not allowed to return to school to pursue a traditional high school diploma. Often, their only option is to earn a General Education Diploma, or GED. Although GEDs are faster to complete, they’re less rigorous than traditional high school diplomas, meaning they may be less effective in opening doors to better, more sustainable employment. 

Regardless of whether it’s for a traditional high school diploma or a GED, returning to school is hard. Affordable childcare is difficult to find, and many students have to work to support their families. Time and money constraints make it difficult to maintain regular school and work schedules. More often than not, these constraints make it impossible. 

But if a traditional high school diploma leads to better employment and earnings outcomes than a GED, students deserve to set their sights on a higher goal and a higher payoff.

As a nation, our systems and collective decisions affect the educational outcomes of generations. And educational outcomes become life outcomes. Today, we need to know what programs actually give adults a second chance and help them earn their high school diplomas, and we need to know what kind of diploma has the greatest impact on their lives. Because—economically, intellectually, socially—knowing more can lift them up.

The Intervention

The Goodwill Excel Center is an accelerated adult learning program designed to help adult students earn their full Core-40 High School degrees within 2½ years. 

By providing students with the opportunity to earn a 40-credit degree instead of completing the General Educational Development (GED) test, the Goodwill Excel Center curriculum prepares students for postsecondary education and future careers. And because all graduating high school seniors receive a Core-40 diploma as opposed to a GED, the Goodwill Excel Center helps level the playing field between students who graduated from high school on time and students who completed their high school educations as adults. 

In addition to earning a Core-40 diploma, Excel Center students can also pursue industry-recognized certifications and dual college credits they can put towards a college degree.

To support their studies, Goodwill provides students with free childcare and transportation, as well as flexible course schedules for current jobholders. Goodwill also pairs participants with life coaches that help them navigate any obstacles that arise and threaten their educational goals. 

After completing the program, participants are connected with employment agencies that help them find and maintain stable careers.

Research Question

Does Goodwill’s free public charter school provide the resources and guidance adult learners need to earn their high school diplomas, increase their educational opportunities, and improve their labor market outcomes?

Intended Outcomes

  • Adults who graduate from the Goodwill Excel Center will be more likely to earn their high school diploma than those who do not. 
  • After earning their high school diploma, Excel Center graduates will have higher earnings and better employment outcomes than non-graduates.
  • Excel Center graduates will also be more likely to pursue and complete their post-secondary education than those who do not enroll in the program.

Research Study Design

The Goodwill Excel Center project is a retrospective, quasi-experimental study. Eligible participants must be 18 years or older without a completed high school diploma. Adults who have completed their GED are invited to participate and earn their Indiana Core-40 degree. 

Eligible participants apply online, and because there’s greater demand for the Excel Center than there are available seats, Goodwill staff maintain a waiting list of eligible applicants. Upon receiving a completed application, Goodwill schedules an orientation session for the applicant. After attending the orientation, the student officially enrolls in the Excel Center. Still, not every applicant decides to enroll.

To measure the economic impact of earning a Core 40 degree from the Excel Center, LEO researchers will compare the employment, earnings, and educational outcomes of those who graduate from the Excel Center with those who apply but do not enroll. 

(Photo credit: Goodwill Excel Center Central and Southern Indiana)

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