Explaining the positive effect an Excel Center would have in Illinois are, left to right, President of Rock Valley College Douglas Jensen, Rep. Joe Sosnowski, Lt. Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti, President of Northern Illinois Goodwill Industries Sam Schmitz, and Goodwill Indiana Director of Network Development & Advancement Kim Reier. (Photo contributed)
ROCKFORD – Should adults be allowed to earn a high school diploma? Lt. Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti believes they should.
Sanguinetti joined Rep. Joe Sosnowski, Rep. John Cabello and Goodwill officials at the Northern Illinois Goodwill in Rockford this week to highlight the importance of high school diploma attainability for adults and the benefits an Excel Center would bring to Illinois.
Excel Centers are free public schools that offer adults the opportunity to earn a high school diploma. The centers have proven successful in multiple other states, where students not only earn a high school diploma but also take career coursework, giving them the opportunity to achieve significantly higher wages.
Sanguinetti emphasized that implementation of a Rockford area Excel Center in partnership with Goodwill would help Illinois address educational disparities and spur economic growth.
“An educational opportunity during my childhood changed the course of my life for the better,” she said. “Age should not limit a person’s ability to pursue an educational pathway toward success. The Excel Center program has the potential to change the lives of many adults in the Rockford area and I thank Rep. Sosnowski for working with me on this legislation.”
Currently, an estimated 1 million Illinois residents lack a high school diploma or GED. Based on 2015 U.S. Census data, statistics show that 13 percent of Illinois adults aged 25 or older do not possess a high school diploma. In the Rockford Metro Region, 14 percent of adults are without a high school degree. The data also shows that minority populations are disproportionately represented in not possessing high school equivalency credentials.
When Indiana faced a similar problem in 2010, officials partnered with Goodwill to open the first Excel Center. In 2014, Ball State University researcher Dr. Michael Hicks found that, “those who graduated saw wages of more than $4,550 higher after graduation than the typical adult without a high school diploma.”
In order to bring the Excel Center model to Illinois, the Illinois School Code must be amended to remove the current age restriction that prevents adults over the age of 21 who did not finish high school from receiving a high school diploma. Sosnowski’s legislation, HB2527, would remove this barrier for approved nonprofit entities that are in a partnership with regional superintendents of schools.
Additionally, it will call for an ongoing relationship among Goodwill, regional education offices, the Illinois Community College Board and the Illinois State Board of Education to help Rockford-area adults obtain a high school diploma.
“By eliminating the high school diploma age cap, we can give adult learners the ability to earn their degree and open up unlimited new doors of career opportunities for them,” said Sosnowski. “ In the Rockford area alone, we have over 40,000 people without a high school diploma or GED. This is a tragedy that we can proactively remedy by passing my bill into law. Every adult who wishes to complete their high school education should have the opportunity to do so and the Excel Center has proven to be a premier example of how to achieve this shared goal.”