Goodwill Excel Center - Central Texas


Goodwill Central Texas Excel Center, Texas

Focus Area

  • Education


Goodwill Central Texas Excel Center

"We know that the single greatest solution to moving people out of poverty is education. So we need to move the needle on students persisting to graduation and post-secondary education. That will change their lives and that of their families. We need to do better; this research will help us drive to that."

Traci Berry, Superintendent of Schools, Goodwill Central Texas Excel Center

The Issue

There are over four million adults in Texas without a high school diploma, many of whom face barriers to education that inhibit them from obtaining a diploma and, in turn, earning a living wage. Without a high school diploma, individuals face a lot of difficulty in finding career paths or secondary educational opportunities that will help them to increase their income. The Excel Center was designed to provide high school diplomas to people between the ages of 18 and 50 who did not already earn a diploma.

The Excel Center offers robust services to help students face barriers to education. Services that they offer such as free childcare and transportation vouchers help to get students physically in the classroom, while others such as life coaching and mental health counseling help students to overcome non-physical deterrents. However, despite high returns to graduation—roughly a 35 percent increase in earnings within four years of program start (Brough, Phillips, and Turner, 2020)—the Excel Center’s completion rate is only 28%. This may be due in part to low perceived returns to education (Jensen, 2010) or poor behavioral management (Orpinas et al, 2018).

A key question is how to motivate students to persist and graduate. Recent studies have shown that providing reminders and using other behavioral tools can motivate people to do things that they want to, but often fail to do (Mayer et al., 2019). Two viable options that seem promising are text messaging programs as well as counseling support services.

Recently, text messaging programs have emerged as a low-cost, scalable way to affect behavioral change. On the other hand, support services, while effective, are expensive and not as scalable. Many previous studies indicate that support services have been successful at improving academic outcomes.

By studying both services, the Excel Center hopes to measure the impact of text messaging interventions and college and career coaching services.

The Intervention

This intervention focuses on changing behaviors that inhibit students from graduating high school, in hopes that these modifications will carry on after high school and will increase future postsecondary and professional success. Students of the Excel Center who enroll in the study will be assigned to either a group that receives weekly text messages, a group that meets with a career and college readiness coach (CCRC) and receives the text messages, or a control group which receives only standard Excel Center services.

Students assigned to meet with the CCRC will work primarily on orienting themselves toward a career and college-based future, meaning that they will use career or college-related goals to motivate themselves to graduate from the Excel Center. Students who are only exposed to the text messaging intervention will go through a goal-setting process with their life coach at the beginning of their orientation, as do all students. Following the establishment of these goals, the students will receive weekly text reminders about working towards their goals. We study the impact of both types of services.

Research Question

What is the impact of coaching and text message nudges on high school completion for adults?

Intended Outcomes

  • Students who participate in the CCRC services and/or text messaging service will have a higher completion rate at the Excel Center.
  • Students who participate in the CCRC services and/or text messaging service will attain higher earnings post-graduation.
  • Students who participate in the CCRC services and/or text messaging service will have a higher participation rate in post-secondary enrollment.

Research Study Design

The Excel Center behavioral intervention study is a randomized controlled trial. To be eligible for the services, individuals must be active students in the current term at the Excel Center.

Because The Excel Center does not have the resources to provide intensive coaching to everyone and desires to study the effects of the text message intervention, eligible participants are randomly assigned to either one of the two treatment arms or to a control group. Those who are assigned to only the text message service will go through a goal setting process and then receive motivational messages and encouraging facts that encourage students to continue working towards their goals during times in which the students might not act in a forward-looking way. In addition to receiving the text message service, those who are assigned to the CCRC treatment group will meet with the CCRC and will learn about how they can propel themselves after graduating from the Excel Center and will be connected with resources at different colleges and companies through group sessions, one-on-one sessions, and field trips to universities and career opportunities. Those who are assigned to the control group will not receive text messages or work intensively with the CCRC but will have access to all other Excel Center services.

At the conclusion of the study, LEO researchers will compare individuals’ Excel Center persistence and completion rates, earnings, employment, and post-secondary enrollment across all three groups.

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