Breaking barriers: Baltimore’s Goodwill Excel Center offers pathways to a diploma and career opportunities

A new high school in Baltimore is unlocking doors to opportunity by helping adults finish their education and get their diploma.

Opened last fall by Goodwill Industries of the Chesapeake with support from the Weinberg Foundation, the Excel Center is a first-of-its-kind program in the state and one of over 40 locations across the country. Through accelerated courses, the program equips individuals ages 21 and older to demonstrate competency and complete their high school education — an essential step that can transform their lifelong earning potential, health, and overall trajectory.

The Excel Center meets a pressing need in a city where the high school drop-out rate is nearly 18% and an estimated 80,000 residents lack a high school diploma, which presents a significant barrier to entering quality job-training programs, as many require a diploma. The center already reached maximum capacity within its first three months of operation.

“The Excel Center meets people where they are, assesses what they need, and figures out what it will take for them to graduate,” says Marci Hunn, who leads the Foundation’s grantmaking focused on jobs. “The Excel Center is a game-changer in that it supports Baltimore City residents who had given up on education and didn’t think a high school diploma was even possible.”

Making a positive impact today

In addition to fulfilling the requisite number of credits to graduate, Excel Center students must earn an industry-recognized certification in high-demand careers such as a pharmacy technician, HVAC maintenance person, welder, or dental assistant — or free dual college credits through local community colleges. The program facilitates both avenues. It also assists with child care and transportation to and from school and provides life coaches to guide each student along the path to graduation and postsecondary success. For maximum flexibility, classes take place in the mornings and afternoons from Monday through Thursday throughout the year, with individual tutoring available on Fridays.

The first Excel Center was launched in 2010 by Goodwill Education Initiatives in Central Indiana and has since expanded to locations in nine states. Since 2010, more than 11,000 students have graduated from an Excel Center, with 71% of graduates also earning an industry certification and/or dual college credit. A recent study found that program graduates in Indiana are 22% more likely to be employed in the formal sector, or by a licensed organization, and 39% saw an increase in their earnings in five years. Participants are also more likely to be employed in health and other career-focused sectors, shifting out of the services sector, and more likely to enroll in college.

In addition to supporting the first locations in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. (the latter in 2017), Weinberg is funding a national expansion of the program in partnership with the Truist Foundation. This joint effort will enable Goodwill Education Initiatives to double its capacity by 2030 to 85 schools.

“There’s no reason to think there couldn’t be multiple Excel locations throughout Baltimore City and in all our priority communities,” Hunn said. “Having a high school diploma, especially in today’s economy, is required to launch a career. The demand is certainly there, and the results coming out of the program are very encouraging.”

Bringing about a brighter tomorrow

The Excel Center also has far-reaching implications for putting the next generation on a better footing. Children of adults without a high school diploma are more likely to not complete high school themselves, and kids fare better when their parents have a higher level of education.

That’s exactly what motivated one young mom, who years ago had dropped out of high school, to register for classes at Baltimore’s Excel Center. Her kids made her want to be a role model, “so that’s when I made my mind up that it was time for mommy to get herself together,” she told those attending the grand opening ceremony of the Excel Center in Baltimore last fall. “I am prepared and I’m ready…to be the example that you can do it no matter what this world is telling us.”

To view highlights from the Excel Center’s grand opening in Baltimore City, and to hear from more of its participants, check out this video.

Photo courtesy of Goodwill Industries of the Chesapeake.

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