Career Academies

Evidence Rating  
Evidence rating: Scientifically Supported

Strategies with this rating are most likely to make a difference. These strategies have been tested in many robust studies with consistently positive results.

Health Factors  
Decision Makers
Date last updated

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 employers1

What could this strategy improve?

Expected Benefits

Our evidence rating is based on the likelihood of achieving these outcomes:

  • Increased high school completion

  • Increased academic achievement

  • Improved student attendance

Potential Benefits

Our evidence rating is not based on these outcomes, but these benefits may also be possible:

  • Increased earnings

What does the research say about effectiveness?

There is strong evidence that Career Academies help at-risk students progress through high school and avoid dropping out2, 34. Career Academies are a type of dropout prevention program that involve school or class restructuring; such programs have been shown to increase high school completion5, 6.

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 students37, 4. 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 men4, 8, and persist eight years after program completion2.

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 content9.

Career Academies combined with Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) can improve on-time graduation rates and may improve grades10.

How could this strategy impact health disparities? This strategy is rated likely to decrease disparities.
Implementation Examples

There are approximately 7,000 Career Academies nationwide11. 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 nation1. The National Career Academy Coalition recognizes model academies across the U.S., including schools recently recognized in Hawaii, Florida, Tennessee, and Arkansas12.

The Exploring College and Career Options (ECCO) program, developed by MDRC, includes curricula, resources, guides, and professional development materials to support Career Academies8.

Implementation Resources

CCASN - College & Career Academy Support Network (CCASN).

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.


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1 CCASN - College & Career Academy Support Network (CCASN).

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

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

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

5 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.

6 CG-TFR Education - The Guide to Community Preventive Services (The Community Guide). Task Force Recommends (TFR) center-based early childhood education programs (ECE) to improve educational outcomes that are associated with long-term health as well as social- and health-related outcomes.

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

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

9 IES WWC-Rumberger 2017 - Rumberger R, Addis H, Allensworth E, et al. Preventing dropout in secondary schools. Washington, D.C.: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE), U.S. Department of Education (U.S. ED), Institute of Education Sciences (IES), What Works Clearinghouse (WWC); 2017.

10 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.

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

12 NCAC-Model academies - National Career Academy Coalition (NCAC). NCAC model academies from 2015 to present.