By: AIF Staff
More so than any other year in modern history, 2020 showed how important having a structurally sound education system capable of delivering quality instruction is for Americans of all ages. During the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers and administrators learned first-hand how challenging it can be to provide instruction to students who are facing turbulence and difficulties in their lives. And coming out of this turbulent time, educators and policymakers would be well-served to learn from this challenging year and expand flexible learning modalities to meet America’s students where they are.
Part of modernizing how America educates its population is by changing our perception: Too many in America view education in a linear fashion, believing that everyone generally proceeds from pre-K to high school to higher education programs in a straight-forward and uninterrupted way. The reality, however, is much different and for millions of Americans, obtaining and education is often more circuitous. Life often gets in the way of students achieving a full education, and the lack of a high school diploma can hold folks back from reaching their potential.
Given the correlation between educational attainment and lifetime earnings – to say nothing of other social outcomes that improve based on a person’s level of education, America needs educational programs and systems to help those who may not be able to take a linear schooling path.
One such educational program that is making a difference in the lives of adults around the country is The Excel Center, operated by Goodwill of Central and Southern Indiana. Since 2010, the Excel Center has been providing adults in Indiana with a cost-free high school education and a customized approach to learning that empowers people “to increase their independence and reach their potential through education, health and employment.”
The idea for the Excel Center started with a simple observation by the leaders of Goodwill of Central and Southern Indiana: Too many Indiana adults were not successfully completing high school and it was having cascading repercussions for the students, their families, and their communities.
So, working with local officials and the community, they developed a solution, starting with one school in 2010 and gradually expanding to 30 different Excel Centers: 18 of which are in Indiana and 12 across 5 different states.
In the past decade, Excel Centers have helped nearly 35,000 people improve their lives through the attainment of a high school diploma. The Excel Center uses an accelerated adult learning program, allowing student to earn high school degree within 12 months on average as well as industry-recognized certifications. Fox59 of Indianapolis reported on the Center’s unique approach:
“At first glance, it looks like an ordinary classroom. But at the Excel Center, these aren’t ordinary students. They’re all adults who have dropped out of high school the first time and are back and ready to graduate… The center also provides free childcare, transportation assistance and dual credit courses, which allows students to focus on completing their course work.”
Because of their customized model, the Excel Center is having a real impact and changing lives through education. As an Excel Center graduate told WISH TV: “I feel like I couldn’t have done it without them and my family. So I feel like I have accomplished one of my major goals in life.”
Beyond the anecdotal impacts, the Excel Center’s approach has been increasingly validated by data and evidence, thanks to a partnership with Notre Dame’s Laboratory for Economic Opportunities which has studied the program’s outcomes. A statistical summary from Goodwill showed the promise and the power of the Excel Centers:
- 73% of graduates earned an industry certification and/or college credit;
- 38% of Excel Center graduates enroll in post-secondary education within one year of graduating;
- Recent state data suggests that 2017 Excel Center graduates that participate in the workforce saw a $14,000 increase in annualized wages compared to when those same students enrolled at The Excel Center.
According to a self-reported student profile produced by Goodwill, only 19% of enrollees had full time employment, 84% were unemployed and/or receiving public assistance, and 66% had been out of school for more than a year.By providing an accessible education model, coupled with assistance that meets students’ specific needs, Excel Centers are giving people a real chance at achieving a diploma and career certification and at realizing the benefits that come with it.
As Notre Dame noted:
“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…. 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.”
An education can unlock opportunities to a better life, not just for the student but for their families and communities as well. By developing models that allow adults to obtain high school diplomas and to receive industry certifications, programs like the Excel Centers are giving thousands the chance to pursue their American Dreams and provide policymakers with an example of how an innovative model can be scaled to make a major impact.