Goodwill Excel Centers

Goodwill Excel Centers


“The Excel Center makes it possible [for me] to gain my diploma because they offer assistance with transportation and free childcare. The drop in [childcare] center has helped me and my daughter because it’s made her more independent, and it’s helped me relieve a lot of stress so I can focus on my studies, ’cause I know where she’s at and that she’s being taken care of…. I wanted to show my daughter that, against all odds, she can be successful in life and she can achieve any goal no matter what.”

-Shelbi, Excel Center student

Most Americans know of Goodwill as the place where they drop off or pick up gently used goods. Yet, its true mission is bigger: to enhance the quality of life of individuals and families through education, skills training, and work. Here, we feature the Goodwill Excel Centers of Central and Southern Indiana for its innovative approach to addressing the needs of poor, rural youth, many of whom are also parents.

We chose to profile Goodwill Excel Centers of Indiana for three reasons. First, it has demonstrated a statewide capacity to reach all locations, including rural areas, where the disconnected youth rate is the highest. Second, it has developed a particular focus on parents. This is key because children born into poverty, and to parents without a high school degree, are far more likely to remain poor. Finally, its affiliation with Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP)—a well-established nurse-home visitation program with proven benefits for mother and child—demonstrate how philanthropy can encourage novel collaboration, built off of past success.


The Excel Centers are public charter schools that offer a path to a high school diploma (rather than GED), as well as industry-recognized certifications and even post-graduate education at select sites. The key to its learning centers is the flexible schedules and wrap-around supports they offer students, allowing adults ages 17 to 50 to break the cycle of poverty. Since 2010, Goodwill of Greater Indiana has opened 11 Excel Center sites in central and southern Indiana, serving more than 5,000 students a year. It is one of the oldest and largest statewide networks of Excel Centers.

The schools are organized to better meet the needs of older youth, adults, and parents—and to provide additional services such as one-on-one coaches, transportation assistance, and onsite childcare. The model is known for providing flexible, accessible education in year-round, eight-week terms to give students flexibility to attend, leave, and return with frequency. Students are not penalized for dropping out and returning. Many schools also offer flexibility to choose between morning, afternoon, evening, and online classes. Additionally, the Excel Centers offer specialized learning for ESL and special education students.

In rural locations over 70% of Excel students are between the ages of 16 and 24, a higher percentage than in urban areas. Excel Centers adapt curriculum and employer partnerships to respond to the local economy and unique needs of students. For example, through partnership with a local hospital in the rural community of Shelbyville, Indiana, local centers created a medical assistance and pharmaceutical industry certifications program, with an on-site internship component. The program created an employer pipeline for local Excel Center graduates. Indeed, that pipeline is so strong that the centers had to adjust coursework and graduation requirements to meet the needs of the employer while still giving participants enough time to graduate with a high school degree.

To meet the needs of young parents, the Excel Centers provide on-site childcare, along with access to maternal and child health services through NFP, whose nurses are co-located in two Goodwill Indiana locations—making it even easier for young parents and their children to receive health services on-site. The partnership also works in reverse. NFP nurses refer over 20% of the young mothers they serve to Excel Centers to further their education.


The national program has yet to be evaluated, but Goodwill of Indiana has been studied by external evaluators who have documented average wage increases of $4,700 for graduates. Of those who graduate, over 70% are employed and see a 50% wage increase six months after graduation, and 38% are enrolled in postsecondary education. More than 70% of graduates also self-reported an improvement in their children’s academic performance. NFP Indiana, supported by Goodwill, saw clear increases in immunization, breastfeeding, education levels, income, and wage rates. (For more on NFP, see its profile in our High Impact Giving Guide.)

“Coming to The Excel Center makes me feel like I have a purpose and they’ve given me the tools I need to succeed. The life coaches and teachers sincerely want to help you and are your support system that will be there lifelong.”

-Kenyatta, student at The Excel Center in University Heights

Goodwill Excel Centers serve a particularly vulnerable population of students known to cycle in and out of the program as life circumstances (i.e., pregnancy, illness, work) prevent or allow participation. So while the impact on graduates appears to be strong, only about 15% to 25% of students served graduate in a given year. For example, in 2016, the centers offered 3,200 program slots (or “seats”), but served more than 5,000 people as students cycled in and out of the program throughout the year, at a cost of approximately $4,400 per student.

With a low percentage of students graduating in any given year, we estimate the cost of moving a student successfully through the program into employment or post-secondary education to be in the range of $22,000 to $36,000. Still, compare that to an estimated $623,000 in lifetime social welfare costs and lost income/ tax revenue per high school dropout, to understand the program’s potential ‘bang for buck’: a savings of approximately $17 to $28 for every $1 spent on the program.


The percentage of children living with families in poverty decreases as parental education rises.

Percent of children under 18 living in poverty

Parents’ highest level of education

Source: Economic Mobility Corp. (2014);


Donors can facilitate high-quality affiliations such as the one between Goodwill Indiana and NFP to encourage innovative and promising ways to reach the most disconnected youth. In addition to Indiana, Goodwill currently operates Excel Centers in Texas, Washington D.C., and Tennessee, with two more opening in Hawaii and Arkansas. And they have the potential to reach many more communities given the existing Goodwill network. The goal is to expand to 25 states by 2023. Interested donors can help expand the centers to new communities.

More mature programs are largely funded by state and federal grants, with support from Goodwill Industries. For these programs, philanthropy provides a critical, flexible pool of funds for identifying and building out new career pathways and employer partnerships. Philanthropic funds can also help cover smaller costs not covered by state and federal grants, such as a monthly transportation allowance—a significant detail considering that without it participants wouldn’t be able to get to school or a new job. As the Excel model expands to new communities, philanthropic funding will also be crucial to support the creation of a national office to share best practices and technical assistance across sites. To help, you can donate any amount to Goodwill Excel Centers of Central and Southern Indiana or Goodwill Excel Centers in Central Texas.


Interest in two-generation approaches to helping families gain more personal and economic stability has grown over the last few years. Donors have supported the efforts of multiservice organizations to better integrate existing programs for parents and children, as well as partnerships between organizations (like the Goodwill-NFP relationship) to provide more comprehensive services. While such partnerships can ease the transition between services for young parents and children, they often require additional time and effort on the part of social service organizations. Donors can provide this necessary “glue” money that helps organizations clear logistical hurdles to closer cooperation.

Many programs like NFP and Goodwill rely on existing federal funding sources (such as money for home visitation under the Health and Human Service budget or Workforce Innovation and Opportunity financing under the Department of Labor). The National Center for Children in Poverty offers a useful, short summary of the kinds of policies at the state level that can facilitate or impede efforts to help poor families.

Finally, though promising, the evidence around the effectiveness of two-generation programming, such as the partnership described above, is still emerging. Funding rigorous study and evaluation of models is yet another opportunity for philanthropy to help, one with the potential of strengthening the field overall.