College and career academies are specialized educational programs that focus on preparing students for both higher education and specific career paths. These academies often offer a blend of academic coursework, technical training and hands-on experience in a particular industry or field. They aim to provide students with practical skills and knowledge that are directly applicable to their chosen career interests.
These academies typically partner with local businesses, colleges or industry professionals to offer real-world experiences, internships, mentorships, college credits and industry certifications. They can cover various fields such as healthcare, technology, engineering, business and arts. The goal of these programs is to help students explore their interests, gain relevant skills and make informed decisions about their future education and careers.
In fact, there are other benefits to these programs that go beyond a high school education. Not only can students earn college credits and technical certificates, but they can also expand their network through local businesses and universities. This enables students to extend their education and career growth beyond the high school curriculum while also addressing the needs of local communities. College and career academies embody a collaboration among a community’s school system, colleges, and business leaders forming the academy’s governing board. So a key aim of these academies is to fulfill the unique workforce development goals tailored to each local area.
So it makes sense that these academies are often embraced by lawmakers and communities alike. However, to better understand the outcomes, the Georgia Public Policy Foundation has recently completed a comprehensive analysis of these programs.
As this report explains, the actual effectiveness of these academies is assessed by examining student outcomes tied to both individual advancement and job placement. Specifically, data on technical certificates, college credits and post-graduation employment reflect these outcomes.
However, when it comes to analyzing the available data on student outcomes there are two main obstacles.
First, the independent nature of the individual academies and the differences in their performance across different success metrics make evaluating the overall system challenging.
While some academies succeed in certificate attainment or work-based learning, others show minimal participation. This can be taken as a matter of performance as well as priority. For example, focusing on technical certification over dual enrollment impacts performance assessments.
The report found large differences in particular outcomes for some programs over others. For example, the academy with the most college credits earned per student had an average of twelve, while many others averaged one or fewer. The percentage of students earning a technical certificate also had a wide range, from 66.7% for the highest performing program while most programs were under 10%. The number of graduates employed in a job related to their pathway was 53% for the highest performing academy, but most were also below 10%.
Second, the report uncovered significant errors in data collection, masking many of the true outcomes.
Some of the available data are in obvious error or mathematically impossible and metrics are tracked inconsistently over the years. Also, many key metrics are either not collected or could be categorized more efficiently. For example, employment in a field directly related to a student’s pathway and enrollment in post-secondary education are both positive outcomes. But these metrics are not broken down and presented separately.
On top of that, some of the data is simply missing. For instance, college and career academies are required, according to their grant agreements, to submit quarterly reports to the Technical College System of Georgia. However, these reports have not been collected in several years, and the published reports are incomplete.
In addition to fixing these issues, the report offers the following key recommendations in the data collection process that would help to make student outcomes more transparent:
- track how many graduates work in a high-demand occupation
- report average wage earnings for graduates
- report their graduation rates compared to those of their associated school districts
- disaggregate entries by race and economic status and compare each to district averages when applicable
- report the percentage of graduates living on government assistance
Challenges like external influences and the autonomous nature of these academies have hindered consistent data collection in the past. However, as the report explains, there are avenues for improvement.
College and career academies influence multiple policy domains and involve various stakeholders in Georgia—students, parents, districts, local businesses and taxpayers all have a stake in their success. Transparency about these investments is necessary. Without clarity on the academies’ success and viability, ensuring the program’s sustainability through necessary enhancements becomes uncertain.