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Career Academies

What is it? Public high schools seeking to prepare students for the workforce may create small learning communities called career academies, which offer students occupational training in addition to their regular academic instruction. Career academies’ curricula include college preparatory courses and emphasize a career theme and related occupational training. 

Who provides it? Public high schools often in partnership with postsecondary institutions and employers. Postsecondary partnerships ensure that high school coursework is aligned with and counts toward college-level work and to allow students to take college courses while in high school (“dual enrollment”). Local employers offer work-based learning opportunities, such as internships, job shadowing, tours and presentations, and mentorship. 

Why is it important? Career academies were first created within larger high schools to create smaller communities and clearer pathways to college and careers for students. The model provides enhanced student support, and its focus on career-related skills and competencies at the secondary level prepares students for success after high school.

Since the development of the first career academies, the resources and supports available in the field have evolved. A key source of funding for career academies has been the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Improvement Act. Organizations like the Association for Career and Technical Education and the National Academy Foundation provide technical support and other resources to foster career academies’ development, expansion, and success. Research by MDRC on the effectiveness of career academies shows the model has positive, sustained impacts on labor market outcomes, which has helped expand nationally.