Take up - Goodwill Excel Center Indy


  • Goodwill of Central and Southern Indiana - Indianapolis, Indiana

Focus Area

  • Education

"The vision of the Goodwill Excel Center is to build a community where people are empowered to improve their life and family through the achievement of academic and career goals. … We support the whole student, and respond to the fact that life commitments and circumstances can often stop people from continuing their high school education."

- Goodwill Excel Center

The Issue

There is substantial evidence that demonstrates the benefits of a high school diploma, even if it was received in adulthood.

The lifetime earnings of high school graduates are significantly higher than those of high school dropouts. Children of high school graduates are 50% less likely to drop out of high school. And common high school diploma substitutes, like the GED or HSE, are not widely accepted at universities or with the military.

Lacking a high school diploma can prevent upward mobility for adults who were unable to receive a diploma as teenagers.

Despite these benefits, enrollment in adult education initiatives that can provide a high school diploma is limited. Several administrative and social barriers prevent eligible adults from taking up the service. Examples of these barriers include social stigma, past negative experiences with school, lack of information, transportation difficulties, or losing out on potential earnings.

The Goodwill Excel Center, an adult charter high school, faces a historically low take-up rate of their programs, despite evidence of their effectiveness. About 30-40% of people who complete an application for the Excel center do not show up to the first day of classes.

Low take-up rates prevent programs such as the Excel Center from reaching their target population and creating spillover effects that benefit the community at large.

The Intervention

Goodwill’s tuition-free high school for adults provides the Core 40 high school diploma, the same diploma that 18 year-old high school graduates receive. In addition, the Excel Center offers free college and career credentials, onsite child care, transportation assistance, life coaching and flexible scheduling.

Since 2010, over 13,000 students have graduated from the Excel Center. And they have experienced a difference in their lives. Research suggests that graduates earn $3,776 more income than non-graduates five years after applying to the Excel Center.

However, the low takeup rate means that not every applicant—who could benefit from an Excel Center degree—is reaping the potential benefits.

The Excel Center of Central and Southern Indiana is launching two interventions that aim to combat low takeup. The first treatment is an email sent soon after a new student’s application that includes a video addressing stigma barriers students may face about returning to school. This strategy seeks to increase the number of applicants who follow through on scheduling an orientation.

The second treatment is inviting new students to schedule in-person, individual orientations. During these orientations, new students will complete enrollment paperwork, a welcome conference, and a school tour with their assigned life coach. This strategy seeks to increase the number of applicants who attend orientation and persist from application to graduation, relative to Goodwill’s standard group orientations held at set times.

Low takeup rates in social welfare programs have been understudied by economists. Most research focuses on informational campaigns—which have proven limited in their ability to increase takeup rates because of their failure to address common barriers such as stigma or transaction costs. Additionally, studies of take-up strategies have often focused on government welfare or benefits programs, rather than nonprofit programs that require continued effort and commitment.

More rigorous evidence is needed to understand how to ensure those who most need programs like the Excel Center are enrolling. To effectively serve their communities, program providers must understand what barriers to enrollment their clients are facing and how to address them.

Research Question

What is the causal impact of a video addressing students' perceived barriers and a one-on-one orientation separately on new students’ enrollment, persistence between terms, credit attainment, and graduation from the Excel Center?

Intended Outcomes

  • The video and individual orientations will increase the conversion rate from application to enrollment for new students.
  • Students in the treatment group will demonstrate increased student persistence between terms and increased graduation rates.
  • Additionally, should the interventions cause a large enough change in take-up for the treatment group, LEO and Goodwill Indianapolis will explore the impact of the interventions on long-term outcomes such as employment and earnings.

Research Study Design

LEO researchers will use a randomized controlled trial—the gold standard of research design—to study the impact of the Goodwill Excel Center’s new takeup strategies.

Because of the time intensive nature of individual orientations, the Excel Center does not currently have the capacity to offer individual orientations to every new student. In the face of excess demand, the most fair way to assign individual orientations is at random.

When new students apply to the Excel Center, applicants will be randomly assigned to one of four groups. Applicants will only be included in the study sample if they consent to participate in the study.

The first treatment group will recieve both the video addressing potential barriers and be contacted about scheduling their individual orientation. The second group will be contacted about scheduling their individual orientation, but will not receive the video. The third group will receive the video, but will not be contacted about scheduling individual orientation and will be invited to attend standard group orientation. Finally, the fourth group will receive neither treatment.

LEO researchers will use baseline data, collected by the Goodwill Excel Center in their application forms, to study program takeup for the control and treatment groups. If the research team wants to track employment and earnings outcomes in the future, they will use baseline data to link to administrative data from the state of Indiana.

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