Career Academies: Long-Term Impacts on Labor Market Outcomes, Educational Attainment and Transitions to Adulthood

A report by MDRC (James J. Kemple and Cynthia J. Willner)

The US Career Academy programme, delivered within some 2,500 high schools across the country, works in active partnership with employers, tailors curricula around career themes and teaches in smaller student groups. Public policy research agency MDRC has been evaluating nine high schools since 1993. The study uses a randomized controlled field trial, which is rare. Its newest findings are based on a survey carried out with 1,428 students (bearing a very high retention rate of 81% and an even split between the control and experimental group: respectively, 80% and 82% of the original participants) eight years after expected graduation (aged 24). The Academy group had all spent 3-4 years in the Academy programme and 85% of the total cohort is Hispanic or African-American.

The researchers found that:

  • “The Career Academies produced positive and sustained impacts on average monthly earnings throughout the eight-year follow-up period (11% overall).
  • A 16% difference in monthly earnings for young men who took part exceeded the 11% difference found in other research that compares male workers who have two years in community college to those with a high school diploma.
  • The difference in earnings for young women was not statistically significant by the eighth year after graduation, the reasons for this to “be explored in nonexperimental analyses”.
  • The high-risk subgroup (the students likeliest to drop out) experienced the most consistent and positive labor-market outcomes.
  • There was no impact found on high school completion rates or on postsecondary enrolment and attainment, suggesting that there is no cost to  academic study when time is spent on employment-oriented learning.
  • There was a modest difference in job distribution: sample members of the Academy group were more likely to be working in a job that was both a result of high school experiences and directly related to the themes and subjects studied at high school.
  • The academies produced an increase in percentage of young men and women living independently with children and a spouse or partner. Young men also experienced an increase in marriage rates and custodial parenthood

Career Academies: Long-Term Impacts on Labor Market Outcomes, Educational Attainment and Transitions to Adulthood – full report