From high school dropout to college graduate: Goodwill’s adult high school gave me a second chance to excel

I was on a road to nowhere – a high school dropout and single mom, like the two generations before me. Trapped in an abusive relationship.

To protect my son and myself, we fled with nothing but the clothes on our backs. I worked a series of dead-end jobs, and we even found ourselves homeless for a time.

I was desperate by every measure – most of all for a second chance.

Gloria Combs

That’s when I found myself one day at an orientation session for something called a Goodwill Excel Center, a tuition-free high school for adults like me. An Excel Center had recently opened near me, in Indianapolis.

I’ll admit I was apprehensive. I was now 26 and raising a child alone. Could I finally finish high school? I started to walk out of the room, hoping to slip by unnoticed. That’s when an Excel Center employee stopped me with a simple question: Was I ready to change my life?

The answer was yes.

Finding new purpose and motivation, I earned my diploma in just seven months and finished with a 4.06 GPA and an industry-recognized Pharmacy Technician Certification. I went on to earn a two-year degree from Ivy Tech in 2017, becoming the first in my family to graduate college. For the past six years, I’ve worked as an Excel Center life coach, and am now enrolled at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis’ School of Social Work. I’ll earn my Master’s this spring.

Simply put, the Goodwill Excel Center has changed the entire trajectory of my life and my child’s future.

There are an estimated 720,000 Arizonans who never earned a high school diploma or equivalent. Like I was, they’re often limited to a host of low-wage, limited-opportunity jobs. We can change this.

Goodwill proposes to open as many as 22 Excel Center locations in Arizona over the coming decade. A modest state investment would pay massive investments for the economy and, most of all, the individual students and their families. It is estimated that nearly 4 in 10 Excel Center students would not only finish their diploma, but also go on to complete a 2-or 4-year college education (as I did). Meanwhile, research shows a $12,000 average wage increase annually among Excel Center graduates who go directly into the workforce.

The Excel Center provides students with free childcare, flexible scheduling and accelerated coursework. Most of all, they offer a second chance.

My Excel Center was more than just a place to get my diploma. It was a safe haven – a support system of people who cared for me and believed in me more than I’d ever cared for or believed in myself.

A decade ago, I was a high school dropout. Today, I’m a college graduate with a career I love and a bright future. I want Arizonans facing similar circumstances to have the opportunity I got via the Excel Center.

That’s why I’m urging Arizona legislators to keep my story in mind as they consider bringing the Excel Center to your state.

Everyone who wants a high school diploma deserves a second chance to earn one – and I’m living proof it’s never too late!

Gloria Combs is a graduate of The Excel Center. She lives in Franklin, Indiana.

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