Career Academies

Updated: Nov 20, 2017
Evidence Rating:
Top Tier


  • Program:

    Small learning communities in low-income high schools, combining academic and technical/ career curricula, and offering workplace opportunities through partnership with local employers.

  • Evaluation Methods:

    A large, multi-site randomized controlled trial (RCT).

  • Key Findings:

    11% increase in average annual earnings ($2,555 per year in 2017 dollars), sustained over the eight years after scheduled high school graduation. The effect was concentrated among men (who experienced a 17% earnings increase), and was not statistically significant for women.

  • Other:

    Strong evidence of effectiveness applies to the Career Academy model evaluated in this trial (as opposed to other types of Career Academies).

The Career Academies in the study summarized in our full evidence summary 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.

The per-student cost of Career Academies varies widely depending on the specific features of the school. An analysis of four Career Academies in California found that the high schools operating these Academies incurred total additional costs that ranged from approximately $3,800 to $7,600 per Academy student over the course of their three- or four-year Academy participation (in 2017 dollars).

Click here for Career Academy Support Network’s website.

To see our full evidence summary:
Download PDF


Kemple, James J. and Cynthia J. Willner, Career Academies: Long-Term Impacts on Labor Market Outcomes, Educational Attainment, and Transitions to Adulthood, MDRC, June 2008. Here are links to the main study report and technical resources.

Kemple, James J. and Judith Scott-Clayton, Career Academies: Impacts on Labor Market Outcomes and Educational Attainment, MDRC, March 2004. Here is a link to the study.

Kemple, James J. and Jason C. Snipes, Career Academies: Impacts on Students’ Engagement and Performance in High School, MDRC, March 2000. Here is a link to the study.

Parsi, Ace, David Plank, and David Stern, Costs of California Multiple Pathway Programs, Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE), 2010. Here is a link to the report. (National Center on Secondary Education and Transition- What Works in Dropout Prevention) (The Career Academy Support Network)