Goodwill Excel Center - Memphis


Memphis Goodwill, Tennessee

Focus Area

  • Education


Memphis Goodwill

"The Excel Center brings hope and economic opportunity to communities, families, and individuals. Through the power of education, Goodwill's goal is to set people on a pathway towards better career prospects that lead to economic self-sufficiency and breaking the cycle of poverty."

Chuck Molinski, VP of Education, Goodwill Memphis Excel Center

The Issue

While high school completion is valuable from both a student and societal perspective, many students do not finish. In 2017, there were 2.1 million dropout students between the ages of 16 and 24. In Shelby County, Tennessee specifically, approximately 131,000 adults do not have a high school diploma, making it more difficult for them to find living-wage work and more likely that they will fall into poverty.
Existing research suggests that low dropout rates persist for a number of reasons, some of which involve low perceived returns to education and struggles solidifying the behaviors necessary for success in school, such as study skills. Low high school completion rates are concerning given that educational attainment can significantly boost an individual’s economic success and general well-being. For example, average earnings for workers who complete secondary school are over 40 percent greater than those for workers who complete primary school only. Other research shows that increasing years of schooling can impact outcomes outside of earnings and employment, such as increasing life expectancy and reducing behaviors that adversely affect health.

Notably, Cameron & Heckman find that a high school diploma has much greater value as compared to alternative credentials like the General Educational Development (GED) test when it comes to earnings and employment outcomes. While the returns to a high school diploma are found to be consistently significant across these outcomes, the returns to a GED are mixed. For those that did not finish high school earlier in life, earning a high school diploma as an adult is more likely than a GED to have a positive impact on their economic opportunity. 

But returning to school as an adult comes with unique challenges, and these learners need special supports--like childcare assistance or flexible class schedules that accommodate work--to ensure they can complete their schooling and earn their high school degree. Comprehensive support services that help clients navigate an array of interconnected issues show promise. Research has shown that such services have helped people access greater opportunity, become more self-sufficient, and improve academic outcomes at the college and high school level.

Despite this promising evidence, most schools aren’t set up to help adult students navigate personal struggles that may affect their school engagement. In response to this issue, the Goodwill Excel Center in Memphis, TN gives adults the chance to earn their high school diplomas--not just an alternative credential like the GED--and provides an array of comprehensive support services to help ensure their success. The Excel Center model is innovative and student-focused, and offers a promising solution for those eager for a second chance and ready for a more stable future.

The Intervention

The Excel Center is committed to increasing attainment of high school diplomas for adult learners by giving them the necessary guidance and tools to be successful in school and achieve better labor market outcomes. In addition to a robust academic curriculum, services provided for students include free childcare, transportation vouchers to get to school, life coaching, expedited term periods, opportunities to earn industry-recognized certificates, and flexible class schedules. 

The Excel Center is completely tuition-free for its students, including life coaching and additional support services.


Research Question

Can an adult high school improve educational and economic outcomes for those who didn't receive their diploma earlier in life?

Intended Outcomes

  • Students who enroll at the Excel Center will attain their GED and/or high school diploma at a higher rate than students who do not enroll or who enroll but do not graduate.
  • These students will also demonstrate improved outcomes related to employment and post-secondary enrollment.

Research Study Design

The Goodwill Memphis Excel Center study is a randomized controlled trial. Any individual who applies and is eligible to enroll at the Excel Center is eligible to participate in the study.

Because the Excel Center doesn’t have the capacity to serve every prospective student, eligible applicants are placed on a waitlist. When a spot in the school becomes open, students are chosen by random lottery from the waitlist for enrollment. Those selected by the lottery to enroll in the Excel Center become members of the treatment group. Those not selected are not enrolled, but have access to other supportive services in the community. 

Following the conclusion of the study, LEO researchers will compare educational and economic outcomes between those who graduated from the Excel Center in Memphis and those who did not.

(Photo credit: Goodwill Memphis Excel Center)

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