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It should never be too late to earn high school diploma

The words Adult Education written on a chalkboard

There are more than 720,000 working-age Arizona adults who never finished high school – and just as many reasons they didn’t earn a diploma.

Maybe they had a health emergency, got into trouble with the law or had family issues that caused them to drop out the first time around. Whatever the reason, their lack of a diploma is holding them back … along with our state. Research demonstrates Arizonans who didn’t finish high school earn 30% less, on average, than their diploma-carrying peers. That works out to $1,600 a month in reduced wages. They also have higher rates of unemployment and reliance on public assistance, and that costs all of us.

Real High Schools, Real Diplomas

That’s why I’m sponsoring bipartisan legislation – HB 2387 – to enable the opening of a limited number of adult high schools known as Excel Centers. The idea is modeled after a successful system operating throughout Indiana and a handful of other states for up to a decade.

Michelle Udall

Michelle Udall

Excel Centers are tuition-free, public high schools. Adult students attend classes with real teachers, take state-issued assessments and earn real diplomas. Goodwill of Central & Northern Arizona has pledged to build and operate Excel Centers, which will report to the Arizona Department of Education and be funded on a per-student basis like any other public school in the state.

The biggest difference is Excel Centers are designed to serve adults (state law currently prohibits funding students over the age of 21). These students have unique needs and will receive the academic, social and employment resources they require – from child care assistance to workforce training and more.

Never Too Late

In states where Excel Centers are currently operating – Indiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Texas and Tennessee – these schools are having a life-changing impact:

  • 97% of Excel Center students graduate with workforce credentials, certifications or college credits.
  • 70% of graduates find employment and experience a 50% increase in job earnings within the first six months following graduation.
  • Nearly four in 10 graduates go on to pursue post-secondary or higher education.

Consider the real-life case of Leticia Ibarra. The California-native was uprooted when her parents divorced and she moved with her father. She got married in her teens and began her family.

Finishing high school became impossible. Years later, upon resettling with her family in Lafayette, Indiana, she finally got the second chance she needed. Leticia attended an Excel Center and earned her diploma at last.

And now? She’s working as a teacher’s aide, and will begin college this June to earn an associate’s degree. Leticia plans to ultimately complete a 4-year university education. “It’s never too late,” she says.

A Second Chance

It shouldn’t be too late for Arizona adults who want to finish high school, either. If HB2387 is approved and signed into law, Goodwill plans to build 22 Excel Centers across Arizona over the coming decade.

An economic-impact analysis conducted by local economist Jim Rounds found that Excel Center students in Arizona will see an average annual wage increase of more than $17,000. That’s the equivalent of an $8.25/hour raise. After full build-out over the course of a decade, the Rounds analysis projects the Excel Centers will result in $1.9 billion in cumulative wage growth and $5.3 billion in added economic activity.

Thousands of Arizonans need a second chance to complete a high school education. For their sake and our own, it’s time we gave it to them.

State Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa, is the sponsor of HB2387.

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