Career Academies: Increasing Earnings Through Education

“I never go to Capitol Hill to talk about high school reform without taking the MDRC evaluation of high school reform models. MDRC’s objective and thorough analysis is informing much of the legislative policy discussions occurring at this critical time for education.”
— Bob Wise, former governor of West Virginia

First developed more than 35 years ago, Career Academies aim to restructure large high schools into small learning communities around career themes, follow rigorous curricula that include academic and career-oriented courses, and offer opportunities to participate in work-based learning activities — all to create better pathways between high school and further education and the workplace. Since then, the Career Academy approach has taken root in an estimated 8,000 high schools across the country.

The proliferation of Career Academies, along with their continuing relevance to high school reform policy initiatives, has been fueled by MDRC’s random assignment evaluation of the model. Tracking students for 12 years, our study found strong and sustained impacts on students’ labor market outcomes, most notably earnings, especially for African-American males. These positive impacts occurred without any detrimental effects on education outcomes, such as graduation from high school or postsecondary enrollment.