Too many high school students lack access to challenging, engaging courses that prepare them for college and a career. Career academies offer one model for engaging students by providing a peer cohort, core academic classes integrated with career technical content, and hands-on work experiences. Evidence from some rigorous studies suggests that career academies can boost students’ high school graduation rates and employment outcomes. Yet little is known about what features of career academies drive these results.

To inform high schools’ decision-making about investments in career technical education (CTE), EDC partnered with a large, diverse public school district in California to study student outcomes associated with career academies. The project grew out of EDC’s experience working with districts in the Ford Next Generation Learning (Ford NGL) network on career-focused curricula.

Key Activities

This mixed-methods research project accomplished the following:

  • Analyzed  longitudal outcomes for 3,000 students in grades 9 and 10, comparing career academy participants with other CTE students on their academic achievements, graduation rates, and college enrollment
  • Worked with the district to gather detailed work-based learning participation data and analyzed patterns in student participation
  • Examined barriers to accessing career academies and work-based learning activities that contribute to equity gaps
  • Documented the experiences of students and teachers in career academies and associated work-based learning experiences through focus groups and interviews


  • Based on initial results, the study has found that career academy students are more likely to persist in a sequence of career technical courses focused on a specific industry sector.
  • Our research team found that unequal access to information about program options and scheduling challenges are key barriers to students’ equitable participation in career academies.
  • EDC researchers collaborated with district partners to create a toolkit for education leaders on how to collect data on students’ participation in work-based learning activities, such as job shadowing and internships.

Learn More

Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education