Career Academies

A note on this page's publication date

The content we created in 2010 appears below. This content is likely to be no longer fully accurate, both with respect to the research it presents and with respect to what it implies about our views and positions.

Published: 2010

In a nutshell

  • The Program: Career Academies are small high schools that combine vocational/technical training with a focus on internships and work experience, with the goal of improving students' job prospects.
  • Track record: The Career Academies program has one of the strongest track records of any US program we've looked at. A rigorous study of the program found that participants experienced more than a 10% increase in annual earnings, an effect that persisted as of eight years after high school graduation (the most recent follow up).
  • Cost-effectiveness: We are not confident in the cost-effectiveness figures we have. The best figure we have put the cost of Career Academies at $675 per student per year above the normal costs of public schooling.
  • Bottom line: Career Academies is in one of the strongest US-focused social programs we have reviewed.

Table of Contents

Note: This review relies on and quotes heavily from the Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy's review of the Career Academies Program.

Program description

According to the Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy:1

The Career Academies in the study summarized below operate within large high schools in low-income, urban areas, and have three distinguishing characteristics:
  • They are organized as small learning communities (150 to 200 students) to create a more supportive, personalized learning environment;
  • They combine academic and career and technical curricula around a career theme; and
  • They establish partnerships with local employers to provide career awareness and work-based learning opportunities for students.

Each Academy typically focuses on a specific field (e.g., health care). Students are recruited to attend, and then must submit an application. Approved applicants enter a Career Academy in 9th or 10th grade, and are taught by a single team of teachers through grade 12.

Evidence of effectiveness

What was the study's methodology?

The Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy summarizes the evaluation as follows:2

The trial evaluated nine Career Academies in high schools located in or near large urban school districts across the United States. These Academies had each implemented and sustained the core features of the Academy model for at least two years. They represented a variety of the career themes that Academies typically offer (e.g., technical, service-oriented, or business-related).

The study randomly assigned 1,764 8th and 9th grade students who had applied to one of these Academies and met the eligibility requirements to (i) a group that was invited to participate in the Academy (“Career Academy group”); or (ii) a control group that remained in the regular high school curriculum. 58% of those assigned to the Career Academy group enrolled in the Academy and remained in the program through the end of their 12th grade year.

Methodological concerns?

The Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy summarizes the study's strengths and weakness:3


  • This was a large, multi-site study that evaluated ongoing, well-implemented Career Academies in their typical setting (large urban school districts), thus providing evidence that such Academies are effective under real-world conditions.
  • The study had a long-term follow-up (11-12 years after random assignment) and low attrition: Outcome data were obtained for 81% of the original sample, and follow-up rates were similar for the Career Academy and control groups.
  • Career Academy and control group members in the follow-up sample were highly similar in their observable pre-program characteristics (e.g., demographics, performance in school, and attitudes toward school).
  • The study measured outcomes for all students assigned to the Career Academy group, regardless of whether or how long they actually participated in the program (i.e., the study used an “intention-to-treat” analysis).


  • A study limitation is that outcomes were measured through self-reports, obtained through researcher-administered surveys, and for the most part were not corroborated by official records (e.g., state unemployment insurance data on earnings and employment).

What were the results?

The Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy states the key results (statistically significant at p .05): participants reported an "11% increase in average annual earnings – i.e., $2,203 per year – over the previous eight years ($21,967 in annual earnings for the Career Academy group versus $19,764 for the control group)."4

The Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy notes that this was true 8 years after the program ended, with no sign of fading impact.5

Do results differ by program type?

Kemple (2008), the most recent follow up study of the Career Academies program, does not disaggregate results by academy type (e.g., Finance, Engineering), umbrella organization (e.g., the National Academy Foundation, an organization we've reviewed), or specific academy.

Is publication bias a concern?

We are in general concerned about publication bias, i.e. the possibility that studies are more likely to be published when they show positive results.

The Career Academies approach was evaluated in a single randomized controlled trial, so there is some possibility of publication bias.


We have found little information regarding the costs of implementing the Career Academies approach.

The Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy states that schools running Career Academies face an additional cost of $675 per student per year.6 Note that we have not been able to determine how that estimate was reached. We would guess that the source for this claim is:7

Each state-funded Academy receives a yearly grant. Only those students that meet attendance and credit standards established in law receive funding. The maximum grant is $81,000 per year, which averages about $600 per student. Most Academy support comes from in-kind local sources, especially people's time: teacher time to coordinate the many program elements, and employee time to be speakers, mentors, and job supervisors.

However, this source is relatively old, is only for the state of California, and does not discuss whether schools incur additional costs above and beyond those that the grant pays for. (We would guess that the Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy adjusted this $600 average for inflation yielding $675 in 2009 dollars).


  • 1

    Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy, "Career Academies."

  • 2

    Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy, "Career Academies."

  • 3

    Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy, "Career Academies."

  • 4

    Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy, "Career Academies."

  • 5

    "Importantly, this effect was sustained over the full eight years, and showed no sign of diminishing. The effect was concentrated among men, who experienced a 17% increase in annual earnings over the follow-up period. There was no statistically significant effect on women's earnings." Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy, "Career Academies."

  • 6

    "The per-student cost of Career Academies varies widely depending on the specific features of the school. One estimate is that, in California, a high school operating a three-year Career Academy (grades 10-12) incurs an additional cost of approximately $675 per Career Academy student, per year in 2009 dollars." Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy, "Career Academies."

  • 7

    Tech Prep California, "California Partnership Academies."