AURORA | Adults seeking a high school diploma could soon earn theirs through a dedicated institution in Aurora, as the city is poised to become the first in the state to welcome Goodwill’s “high school for adults.”
“The school’s model started with the Goodwill in Indiana about 13 years ago, and it’s changing lives every day,” the nonprofit’s local vice president of human resources and workforce development, Gary Smith, said Monday in an Aurora City Council meeting. “We want to bring those same results to Colorado.”
The Goodwill Excel Center would be located at the northeast corner of Iliff Avenue and Chambers Road, where the nonprofit owns a shopping center and runs a thrift store. Representatives from Goodwill described their plans for the center to the City Council on Monday.
Around 11.5% of Americans and 12.6% of Aurorans aged 25 and older are without their high school diploma or its equivalent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Diplomas are an educational milestone and a prerequisite for many jobs and college programs.
Sarah Thomas, who represents Excel Center schools at the national level, said Goodwill’s model grew out of the nonprofit’s workforce development work in Indiana, where they found around half of the adults who they were placing in entry-level jobs lacked their high school diplomas.
She said the Excel Center meets its students where they are and doesn’t have any minimum educational requirements for enrollment. The center also helps prepare students for jobs and obtaining a college degree once they graduate, and offers free transportation assistance and free on-site childcare.
According to the University of Notre Dame, five years after applying to the Excel Center, students on average are earning 39% more than they did before and are more likely to be employed and have some college education. Thomas said about 38% of students go on to earn a two- or four-year degree.
“Typically for adults, a high school diploma on its own isn’t going to be enough to get that good, family-sustaining wage,” she said. “Ultimately, we want our students to have good jobs … that offer living wages, benefits and opportunities for growth.”
Goodwill operates more than 30 of the schools across the country. James Sanchez, director of Goodwill of Colorado, said the nonprofit looked at opening the school in Colorado Springs, but settled on the Aurora location because of their property’s size and location to public transportation.
Sanchez said the school would accommodate between 200 and 300 students at a time, and feature a dozen classrooms as well as computer labs, study areas and a drop-in daycare center.
He said Goodwill was prepared to invest as much as $2.5 million to set up the school, and another said state Sen. Janet Buckner would be helping them get funding from the state to fund tuition for each student.
Councilmember Angela Lawson said the school could open in Aurora as soon as 2024.