A School Choice that Gets Georgia Students College- and Career-Ready

By Russ Moore

Russ Moore

For the fifth year in a row, in 2017 Site Selection Magazine named Georgia the nation’s No. 1 state for business, a significant milestone reached thanks to a singular focus on workforce development. 

Two-thirds of jobs nationally require college training shy of a four-year degree. Georgia’s greatest workforce innovation may be how it brings access to college courses and workforce training – in particular, technical training – directly into public high schools through “schools of choice.” Its growing network of “college and career academies” (CCAs) is especially worthy of national attention.

This innovation started in Newnan (Coweta County) in 2000; today, Georgia boasts college and career academies from Rome to Brunswick and dozens of points in between. Policymakers and economic developers were so pleased with their impact on workforce development and the state’s economy that they codified CCAs in state law (SB 161 in 2011) and created a certification process overseen by the Technical College System of Georgia.

Thirty-seven CCAs operate in Georgia and another six are on target to open in the next year. All operate on a performance contract involving a school system, the CCA’s governing board and the Georgia Board of Education.

One reason CCAs are so focused and effective at improving the workforce is that they are all businesses, run by nonprofit, majority-employer boards of directors. While each contract is unique, all have this in common: They require the partnership to hit targets that ensure “college and career readiness.” Any CCA that does not hit its academic and/or operational goals can be closed.

Imagine a traditional high school closing because it fails its students. CCAs are absolutely accountable, which is one reason employers in Georgia support them over and above the typical level of support, whether that support comes from money, volunteer time or both.

So, just what is a college and career academy?

Georgia requires a CCA to operate as a partnership that includes one or more public school systems, a technical college and local or regional employers. Other public and private colleges are allowed to participate, as are governments, nonprofits and individuals.

All have a locally developed and approved mission to support workforce development. All provide places and programs for high school students to take academic and vocational classes, engage in work-based learning with employers, and earn transferable college credit at no cost to the student.

Most are run by CEOs with business experience (as opposed to high school principals), and most design their curricula after surveying business and industry to determine areas of highest need.

Registering for CCA programs is optional. Students who make that choice tend to commit to doing their best. These academies have far fewer than usual discipline problems and far higher than normal graduation rates (approaching 100 percent, according to a University of Georgia study). 

This school year, more than 32,000 Georgia students exercised this education option and chose to attend a college and career academy.

Georgia is so intent on supporting this business-education model that it has offered an annual facility grant program, supported by state funds since 2007. The brainchild of Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, the Georgia College and Career Academies Project (GCCAP) grant has awarded more than $130 million over 11 consecutive years to 43 communities.

Eight of these applicants have been regional, with one or more boards of education collaborating. Cagle’s stated goal has been to serve every Georgia high school student with a college and career academy by 2020 – a goal that itself makes a connection between the effectiveness of public education and the vibrancy of the state’s economy. Nearly 45 Georgia communities agree.

Russ Moore is the founder and CEO of Seamless Education Associates, Inc., based in Newnan, Ga. He is the former CEO of Central Educational Center (CEC), Georgia’s first CCA and a national model high school and has helped 21 communities and 40 school systems earn charter CCA status and secure the state’s GCCAP grant, accounting for more than 60 percent of the state’s grant investments. 

The Georgia Public Policy Foundation is an independent, nonprofit think tank that proposes market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the view of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before the U.S. Congress or the Georgia Legislature.

© Georgia Public Policy Foundation (January 12, 2018). Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and his affiliations are cited.