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, there are approximately 131,000 adults who are without a high school diploma. For these individuals, it is more difficult to earn a living wage and more likely that they fall into the cycle of poverty. In response to this issue, the Goodwill Excel Center in Memphis, TN works with adults who did not complete high school earlier in life and provides them with services and classes to help them earn their diplomas.
Existing research suggests that low dropout rates persist for a number of reasons, some of which involve low perceived returns to education and unsuccessful behavioral management. These low completion rates are concerning given that educational attainment can be significant for 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 of workers who complete primary school. Other research shows that increasing years of schooling can improve life outcomes outside of earnings and employment, such as increasing life expectancy and reducing behaviors that adversely affect health.

Notably, past studies find a much greater value of the high school diploma compared to alternative credentials like the General Educational Development (GED) test for both earnings and employment outcomes (Cameron & Heckman, 1993). While the returns to a high school diploma are found to be consistently significant across these outcomes, the research about the returns to a GED have found mixed results about its value. For those that did not finish high school earlier in life, a high school diploma is more likely to have a positive impact on their economic opportunity.

When it comes to encouraging students to complete their degree program, research has shown encouraging results for comprehensive support services, which have been successful at moving voucher recipients to opportunity neighborhoods, increasing self-sufficiency among social service recipients, and improving academic outcomes at both at the college level and at the high school level.

For these reasons, the Excel Center’s innovative model of comprehensive support services alongside an opportunity to earn a high school diploma—not just an alternative credential like the GED—offers a promising solution for those that didn’t finish high school earlier in life.

The Intervention

The Excel Center is committed to increasing attainment of high school diplomas for low-income individuals by giving them the necessary guidance and tools to be successful in school and achieve better labor market outcomes. In addition to their 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 Goodwill Memphis Excel Center will attain their GED and/or high school diploma at a higher rate.
  • These students will also demonstrate improved outcomes related to employment and post-secondary enrollment.

Research Study Design

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

Because the Excel Center has a limited capacity to serve students in the Shelby County area, students will be selected for enrollment by a random lottery from their wait list when spots open at their school. Those selected by the lottery to enroll will participate in Excel Center programming as usual, and will become members of the treatment group. Those not selected will not enroll at the Excel Center, but will have access to other services in Shelby County.

Following the conclusion of the study, LEO researchers will compare educational and economic outcomes between those that enrolled at the Excel Center in Memphis, and those that did not.

(Photo credit: Goodwill Memphis Excel Center)

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