Career Academy

An Effective Practice


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.

Goal / Mission

The goal of this program is to foster academic success among at-risk students.

Results / Accomplishments

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. 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.

About this Promising Practice

Primary Contact
Dr. Joseph N. Coffee, Executive Director
National Partnership for Careers in Law--Public Safety, Corrections, and Security
P.O. Box 1991
Annandale, VA 22003
(703) 470-2974
Education / Student Performance K-12
Education / School Environment
Education / Vocational & Adult Education
National Partnership for Careers in Law--Public Safety, Corrections, and Security
The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention's Model Programs Guide (MPG)
Date of publication
Geographic Type
For more details
Target Audience

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