Career Academies

Career Academies are small learning communities within high schools that focus on specific vocational fields such as health care, finance, technology, communications, or public service. Career Academies organize academic, college preparatory, and technical education around a career theme, apply academic skills to real world problems, and offer exploratory field trips and work experience through partnerships with local employers (CCASN). 

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Increased high school graduation

  • Increased academic achievement

  • Improved student attendance

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Increased earnings

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is strong evidence that Career Academies help at-risk students progress through high school and avoid dropping out (SPTW, IES WWCBlueprints). Career Academies are a type of dropout prevention program that involve school or class restructuring; such programs have been shown to increase school completion (Campbell-Wilson 2011, CG-TFR Education).

Students in danger of dropping out who enroll in Career Academies are more likely to stay in school, maintain better attendance, and earn more credits toward graduation than non-enrolled at-risk students (IES WWCYG-CA, Blueprints). Career Academy graduates appear to earn substantially more than their non-Career Academy counterparts in early adulthood. These labor market effects are especially strong among young men (Blueprints, MDRC-Career Academies), and persist eight years after program completion (SPTW).

Research indicates that effective Career Academy programs combine career advising with college visits and assistance with the college financial aid process. Researchers also recommend that programs offer professional development to teach staff and teachers how to integrate academic and career content (IES WWC-Dynarski 2008).

Career Academies combined with Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) can improve on-time graduation rates and may improve grades (RAND-Elliott 2000).

Impact on Disparities

Likely to decrease disparities

Implementation Examples

There are approximately 7,000 Career Academies nationwide (, NCAC-Career academies). The Career Academy Support Network works closely with Career Academies in individual school districts and twenty states and supports development and improvement of Career Academies across the nation (CCASN). The National Career Academy Coalition recognizes model academies across the US, including schools recently recognized in Hawaii, Florida, Tennessee, and Arkansas (NCAC-Model academies).

The Exploring College and Career Options (ECCO) program, developed by MDRC, includes curricula, resources, guides, and professional development materials to support Career Academies (MDRC-Career Academies, ConnectEd-ECCO).

Implementation Resources

CCASN - College & Career Academy Support Network (CCASN). Remaking high school.

NCAC - National Career Academy Coalition (NCAC). Collaborative support and resources for existing and emerging Career Academies.

ACTE-CA resources - Association for Career & Technical Education (ACTE). Career academies resources.

ACTE-CA reports - Association for Career & Technical Education (ACTE). CTE clearinghouse: Career academies and small learning communities ACTE resources, articles, and reports.

Citations - Evidence

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Blueprints - Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence (CSPV). Blueprints for healthy youth development.

SPTW - Social Programs That Work (SPTW). Full list of programs.

IES WWC - What Works in Education Clearinghouse (WWC). Find what works. Institute of Education Sciences (IES).

IES WWC-Dynarski 2008 - Dynarski M, Clarke L, Cobb B, et al. Dropout prevention: A practice guide. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE), US Department of Education (US ED), Institute of Education Sciences (IES), What Works Clearinghouse (WWC); 2008.

Campbell-Wilson 2011 - Wilson SJ, Tanner-Smith EE, Lipsey MW, Steinka-Fry KT, Morrison J. Dropout prevention and intervention programs: Effects on school completion and dropout among school-aged children and youth: A systematic review. Campbell Systematic Reviews. 2011:8.

RAND-Elliott 2000 - Elliott MN, Hanser LM, Gilroy CL. Evidence of positive student outcomes in JROTC career academies. Santa Monica: RAND Corporation; 2000: Monograph Report 1200.

CG-TFR Education - The Guide to Community Preventive Services (The Community Guide). Task Force Recommends (TFR) Education Programs to Promote Health Equity.

YG-CA - Youth.gov (YG), Interagency Working Group on Youth Programs (IWGYP). Career Academy (CA).

MDRC-Career Academies - Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation (MDRC). Career Academies: Exploring College and Career Options (ECCO).

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

CCASN - College & Career Academy Support Network (CCASN). Remaking high school.

MDRC-Career Academies - Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation (MDRC). Career Academies: Exploring College and Career Options (ECCO).

ConnectEd-ECCO - ConnectEd, The California Center for College and Career. Exploring College and Career Options (ECCO) curriculum.

NCSL-Newcomb 2013* - Newcomb ML, Parker E. LegisBrief: The rise of career academies. National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). 2013;21(37).

NCAC-Career academies - National Career Academy Coalition (NCAC). About career academies.

NCAC-Model academies - National Career Academy Coalition (NCAC). NCAC model academies from 2010 to present.

Date Last Updated

Jun 6, 2016