A model for tuition-free adult high schools that started in Indiana is continuing to expand its footprint in the state and the country. The Excel Center, which was launched with 300 students in 2010 by a nonprofit formed by Indianapolis-based Goodwill of Central & Southern Indiana, recently graduated its 3,000th student. Other Goodwill organizations, including South Bend-based Goodwill Industries of Michiana, began their own Excel Centers in 2013. The programs are now operated in Arkansas, Tennessee, Texas and Washington D.C.

In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Goodwill of Central & Southern Indiana Chief Executive Officer Kent Kramer said there’s a great need everywhere for getting working-age adults a diploma. He says around 30 million adults in the U.S. did not finish high school and other Goodwill organizations that have started Excel Centers see what he does. "If you are a high school dropout with limited skill sets, it’s really, really tough," he says. "They have the same waitlists, they have the same experiences we do with people finding success once they get that diploma."

Kramer says research from the Center for Evaluation & Education Policy at Indiana University shows the program’s first 2,400 graduates reported higher annual earnings of almost $10,000 once they received their diploma.

In the eight years since the program was launched, Kramer says leaders have found ways to help students overcome hurdles by implementing programs such childcare and offering free public bus passes. Life coaches play an important role in each students experience, too, he adds. These employees provide educational, housing, food insecurity and employment services help to keep students on-track. "Many of our students, when they walk across that stage and they’re asked to pick one staff member that made a huge difference — and that’s who hands them that diploma — many times, it’s that life coach," Kramer said.

Goodwill of Central & Southern Indiana currently operates 12 Excel Centers throughout its territories, with a Muncie location slated to open soon. Five other Goodwill organizations have opened Excel Centers and Kramer says eight or nine other Goodwills are exploring the possibility. "There’s 30 million working-age adults in the U.S. that have dropped out of high school trying to figure out how take care of family, how to advance in jobs, and the best way to do that is through education and it starts with a high school diploma."

You can connect to more about the Excel Center by clicking here.

In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Goodwill of Central & Southern Indiana Chief Executive Officer Kent Kramer says there’s a great need everywhere for getting working-age adults a diploma.