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Career Academy

Ages 13-18

Rating: Level 2


Career Academies are schools within schools that link students with peers, teachers, and community partners in a disciplined environment, fostering academic success and mental and emotional health. Originally created to help innercity 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.

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 students stay with a group of 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. Second, a Career Academy offers students a combination of academic and vocational curricula and uses a career theme to integrate the two. Third, a Career Academy establishes 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.


The Career Academy evaluation used a large-scale, multisite experimental design with random assignment research. Data was collected over a 6-year period (3- or 4-year follow-up) 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 are large and enroll substantially higher percentages of African-American and Hispanic students than school districts nationally. On average, these school districts have higher dropout rates, higher unemployment rates, and higher percentages of low-income families. 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 data was obtained from four sources: 1) school transcript records, including information about attendance, credits earned toward graduation, and course-taking patterns; 2) student surveys that asked a wide range of questions about school experiences, employment and work-related experiences, extracurricular activities, preparation for college and postsecondary jobs, and plans for the future; 3) standardized math computation and reading comprehension tests; and 4) qualitative field research conducted throughout the evaluation to document academies’ characteristics, local contexts, staff, students, and employer partners. For purposes of data analysis, students were divided into three categories: high risk, low risk, and medium risk of dropping out of high school.


The program had the strongest effects with students who were at high risk of dropping out of high school. These students were less likely than the control group to drop out of school, had better attendance, and more credits earned in both academic and vocational subjects. The program also showed improved outcomes for the low-risk group. This group improved on several outcomes, including the percentage of students who earned enough credits to graduate on time. Medium-risk students showed no differences between the treatment and control group.

Risk Factors


  • Low academic achievement
  • Negative attitude toward school/Low bonding/Low school attachment/Commitment to school

Protective Factors


  • High expectations of students
  • High quality schools / Clear standards and rules
  • Opportunities for prosocial school involvement
  • Presence and involvement of caring, supportive adults
  • Strong school motivation / Positive attitude toward school
  • Student bonding (attachment to teachers, belief, commitment)


Kemple, James J., and Jason C. Snipes. 2000. Career Academies: Impacts on Students’ Engagement and Performance in High School. San Francisco, Calif.: Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation.


Dr. Joseph N. Coffee, Executive Director
National Partnership for Careers in Law—Public Safety, Corrections, and Security
P.O. Box 1991
Annandale, VA 22003
Phone: (703) 470-2974
Fax: (703) 573-6317
Web site: