Career Academy

Program Goals/Target Population

Career Academies are schools within schools that link students with peers, teachers, and community partners in a disciplined environment, fostering academic success, mental and emotional health, and labor market success. Originally created to help inner-city students stay in school and obtain meaningful occupational experience, Career Academies and similar programs have evolved into a multifaceted, integrated approach to reducing delinquent behavior and enhancing protective factors among at-risk youths. These academies enable youths who may have trouble fitting into the larger school environment to belong to a smaller educational community and connect what they learn in school with their career aspirations and goals. They aim to improve labor market prospects of youth beyond high school without compromising high school academic goals and preparation for postsecondary education. Because of these emphases on labor market prospects and postsecondary preparation, each Career Academy will have a specific career concentration such as in law enforcement, tourism, finance, homeland security, or health. Increasingly, Career Academies are being developed in suburban and rural settings.



Program Components

The Career Academy approach is distinguished by three core features that offer direct responses to several problems that have been identified in high schools, particularly in those schools serving low-income communities and students at risk of school failure. First, a Career Academy is organized as a school within a school in which 50 to 75 students stay with a group of 3 to 5 teachers over the 3 or 4 years of high school. Such arrangements are often referred to as “small learning communities.” The aim is to create a more personalized and supportive learning environment for students and teachers. Students also attend some regular classes within the high school. Efforts are made to support parental involvement. Second, a Career Academy offers students a combination of academic and vocational curricula and uses a career theme to integrate the two. Counseling is offered to support the development of postsecondary plans. Third, a Career Academy develops partnerships with local employers in an effort to build connections between school and work and to provide students with a range of career development and work-based learning opportunities. These include field trips designed to expose students to various work environments, job shadowing, and mentoring programs with adults who can provide career guidance. Students are also given the opportunity to work for employers who are connected to the school.

Intervention ID: 
272
Ages: 
13 to 19
Rating: 
Effective
Evaluation: 

Study 1

The Career Academy evaluation used a large-scale, multisite experimental design with random assignment research (Kemple, with Scott–Clayton, 2004). Data was collected at nine high schools with Career Academies. Each of the academies had established the basic Career Academy components. Most of the school districts in the evaluation were large and enrolled substantially higher percentages of African American and Hispanic students than school districts nationally. Participating high schools were located in school districts with higher dropout rates, higher unemployment rates, and higher percentages of low-income families than the respective national averages.



The evaluation included a sample of 1,764 students who applied for one of the Career Academies. Of these, 959 students were randomly assigned to the treatment group and were accepted for admission to the academies. The remaining 805 students were randomly assigned to a control group and were not invited to participate in the academies, though they could choose other options in the high school or school district. The sample was 56.2 percent female, 56.2 percent Hispanic, 30.2 percent African American, 6.4 percent white, and 7.2 percent Asian American or Native American.



The primary data for this report was obtained from a survey administered to sample members some 48 months after their scheduled graduation from high school (8 years after they entered the study). This evaluation included data from a sample of 1,458 young persons who completed the survey. This represents 83 percent of the 1,764 youths in the full study sample: 83 percent of the Academy group and 82 percent of the non-Academy group. About 15 percent of the applicants who were randomly assigned to the Academy group never enrolled at all, and another 30 percent enrolled but subsequently left the programs before their scheduled graduation. An intent-to-treat approach was used for analysis. All students, before randomization, were categorized in one of three risk subgroups (high risk, medium risk, or low risk) based on the likelihood that they would drop out of high school.




Study 2

Kemple, with Willner (2008), updated the Kemple and Scott–Clayton (2004) study with an additional 4 years of data. The total sample surveyed at 96 months (11 to 12 years after program entry) was 1,426, which is 81 percent of the original surveyed sample.



Study 3

Page (2012) used the data from study 2 (Kemple, with Willner, 2008) to analyze the impact of Academy enrollment duration on outcomes. A principal stratification framework and Bayesian inference were used to investigate the causal impact of Academy participation.

Outcomes: 

Study 1

Monthly/Yearly Earnings


Kemple, with Scott–Clayton (2004), found that the young men in the Academy group earned over $10,000 (18 percent) more than those in the non-Academy control group over the 4-year follow-up period. The increased earnings averaged $212 per month, a difference that was statistically significant. This increase resulted from increased wages, hours worked, and employment stability. There was no effect on young women’s labor market outcomes. The positive effects of the labor market outcomes were highest among Academy group members who were at high or medium risk of dropping out of high school when they entered the program.



High School Completion

Completion rates were the same for both groups, although, among those students most likely to drop out, the dropout rate was lower for those assigned to the Career Academy. More than 90 percent of Academy and control students graduated from high school or obtained a GED (General Educational Development) certificate. This rate is higher than the national average, but this difference was likely due to characteristics associated with students’ motivation to apply to a Career Academy program.



Postsecondary Enrollment and Attainment

While Career Academies offered viable pathways to postsecondary education opportunities, they were not more effective than opportunities offered to non-Academy students. More than 90 percent of Academy and control students graduated from high school or obtained a GED certificate. Almost 80 percent enrolled in some type of postsecondary education program.



Social Adjustment Outcomes

There were no differences between the groups on independent living; on having received Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, food stamps, or cash assistance; on registering to vote; and on illegal activity. Compared with the non-Academy group, the intervention group reported more frequently having had health insurance.



Study 2

Monthly/Yearly Earnings


Kemple, with Willner (2008), found that the Academy participants averaged 11 percent ($2,088) more per year than did individuals in the non-Academy group, a boost of $16,704 in total earnings over the 8 years of follow-up. Most of this increase was due to increased earnings among young men in the Academy group, whose earnings increased by 17 percent ($3,722) per year, a boost of nearly $30,000 over eight years. These differences were statistically significant. This increase resulted from increased wages, hours worked, and employment stability. There was no statistically significant effect on young women’s labor market outcomes. The positive effects of the labor market outcomes were highest among Academy group members who were at high risk of dropping out of high school when they entered the program.



High School Completion

Completion rates were the same for both groups, although, among those students most likely to drop out, the dropout rate was lower for those assigned to the Career Academy. More than 90 percent of Academy and control students graduated from high school or obtained a General Educational Development (GED) certificate. This rate is higher than the national average, but this difference was likely due to characteristics associated with students’ motivation to apply to a Career Academy program.



Postsecondary Enrollment and Attainment

While Career Academies offered viable pathways to postsecondary education opportunities, they were not more effective than opportunities offered to non-Academy students. More than 90 percent of Academy and control students graduated from high school or obtained a GED. Almost 80 percent enrolled in some type of postsecondary education program.



Social Adjustment Outcomes

There were no differences between the groups on having received Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, food stamps, or cash assistance; on registering to vote; on involvement in the criminal justice system; and on having health insurance. Compared with the non-Academy group, the intervention group reported more frequently living independently with children and a spouse or partner.



Study 3

Monthly Earnings


Eight years after the scheduled graduation date, male students with 3 years of Academy enrollment earned an average of $588/month more than male students in the comparison group. There was little impact on earnings for those who enrolled for only 1 year, and for 2-year participants the average increase in monthly earnings totaled $180. There were no differences for females in the groups.