Report on Georgia’s College and Career Academies

Executive Summary

College and career academies offer unique development opportunities to Georgia’s high school students and stand to benefit local economies through the fulfillment of workforce needs. The program is popular among lawmakers and has expanded greatly over the past two decades. This study offers a review of individual academies and the College and Career Academy Network as a whole.

In addition to presenting the data available on success metrics such as college credits and dual enrollment, this study also points out issues with the way data are currently collected and offers recommendations for future reporting. These recommendations would better inform the vitality of partnerships among college and career academies, high schools and local businesses as well as students’ pathways from education into the workforce.

Introduction and Background

As of 2023, there are 55 college and career academies in Georgia with two more planned to open in the near future. These academies augment high school education by offering college credits and technical certificates to high school students via partnerships among high schools, postsecondary institutions and local businesses.

College and career academies serve a dual purpose: They allow students to advance their education and professional development beyond high school curricula, and they help to fill state and local workforce needs.

The College and Career Academy Network was established in 2007 under legislation promoted by then-Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, although a few academies pre-date the Network. State law requires academies to submit annual reports to the Technical College System of Georgia through the Department of Education, and the General Assembly appropriates funding for academies annually.

Annual reports help to measure success over time, both of individual academies and the College and Career Academy Network as a whole. However, the reports do not track the same metrics consistently over the years, and some of the data were likely submitted incorrectly. Also, there are opportunities to report other success metrics, specifically as they pertain to postgraduate employment.

This study reviews the performance of Georgia’s college and career academies through analysis of the available data. It also highlights recent and recurring issues with data collection and offers recommendations for which data might be useful in future evaluations.

Data Analysis

Generally, academies’ effectiveness can be measured by reviewing student outcomes as they relate to individual advancement and workforce placement. A few of the ways the available data illustrate these outcomes include technical certificates received, college credits earned and post-graduate pathway-related employment.

One notable conclusion is that different academies have different areas of emphasis, which makes judging the Network as a whole more difficult. For example, in 2021, about 6 percent of academy students overall earned at least one technical certificate. However, some academies see more than a third of their students earn a certificate, while several others have none. Similarly, some academies have over half their enrollment participating in work-based learning while others have only a few.

Consequently, student participation in a specific program is just as much a reflection of priority as performance. Hypothetically, if an academy focuses primarily on technical certification as opposed to dual enrollment (for example, due to proximity to work sites versus proximity to colleges), having low dual-enrollment participation is not necessarily an indicator of poor performance.

As these tables show, some academies have a large share of students in at least one of these types of programs while others prioritize multiple programs or seemingly none at all. For example, at Chattahoochee Valley College and Career Academy (Chattahoochee County), almost a fifth of students earned a technical certificate, over 40 percent participated in work-based learning and students averaged 2.6 college credits earned in 2021. They were in the top ten of all academies for each metric.

The Sims Academy of Innovation and Technology (Barrow County) had the highest percentage of students participating in work-based learning by a large margin, and most work was related to student pathways. It also had a relatively high percentage of dual-enrolled students. However, only 2.25 percent earned a technical certificate, and students only averaged 0.18 college credits earned.

Henry County’s Academy for Advanced Students (which did not report enrollment in 2021) reported no technical certificates earned, less than 0.1 percent of students participating in dual enrollment and 1.5 percent in work-based learning.

One important area of data that is only partially available concerns student pathways. An undoubtedly successful outcome of college and career academy participation is a graduate employed in a job related to his or her pathway – a linear path from interest to education to certification to employment. For students, this is ultimately the most important point of the academy concept.

2021 reports showed how many students participated in work-based learning that was directly related to their pathway. Most academies had less than 10 percent of students aligned with their pathway, and only one, Barrow County’s Sims Academy of Innovation and Technology, had over half of its enrollment in aligned learning.

Despite these rather low numbers, the desire for linear tracking from education to pathway-aligned employment is illustrated, albeit imperfectly, by further reports. Another metric tracked in 2021 was “percentage of students who are employed in a job directly related to Technical Certificates received, or who are enrolled in additional post-secondary education, or both, within six months of graduation.” This is a good way to observe an academy’s effectiveness in placing students in jobs they want and are prepared for. However, there are two problems with the way the data is collected.

Pathway-relevant employment and enrollment in post-secondary education are two entirely different things. It should be noted that both can be reasonably labeled “good” outcomes. However, these metrics should be broken down and presented separately to more accurately indicate linear student pathways. It is also worthwhile to report the percentage of students employed outside of their career pathways. Employment on its own can also be presented as a good outcome, and tracking it in this context will make for a more complete understanding of linear pathways from school to post-graduation.

That is one of a few collection errors that make the data less useful than they should be. There are a handful of dubious – if not mathematically impossible – entries throughout the Department of Education’s reports. For example, some academies list over 100 percent of their enrolled students as recipients of college credit. This was likely meant to represent the total number of students.

The data are also plagued by inconsistency in what is tracked over the years. The Department of Education published reports from 2017-2021, but the metrics used in each report are not the same from year to year. Some of this is due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Data quality, especially in public education, suffered across the board in 2020 and 2021. This is reflected in the 2019 and 2020 reports, which only list enrollment.

Global pandemics aside, and no matter which metrics administrators decide to be the most important to track, state officials and academy administrators should track the same metrics each year. This is the only way to observe any trends of success and viability.

In addition to the reports logged by the Department of Education, college and career academies are required to submit quarterly reports to the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) as part of their grant agreement. Unfortunately, this is not enforced. The TCSG has not published a quarterly report since 2019, and the list from 2014-2019 is incomplete. This is another opportunity to improve accountability and demonstrate success, so the TCSG should resume its required quarterly reports of college and career academies.

Recommendations for Data Collection Based on Best Practices

While improvements could certainly be made to the data currently being collected, academies and the state government have even more opportunities to improve outcomes and refine processes by collecting other data. We recommend a more thorough return-on-investment analysis to more accurately communicate utility and effectiveness.

Current reporting demonstrates some level of student performance. Obviously, graduating from high school with college credits and technical certificates gives students advantages that a normal high school curriculum might not. There is also a certain degree of responsibility for students to make the most of the opportunities afforded to them, and metrics are hard-pressed to account for effort. However, benefitting the student is only part of the objective.

Academies should track how many graduates work in a high-demand occupation.

Again, academies should aim to benefit both their students and their local economies. Linking academy students with high-demand jobs serves to boost local economies and fill the most pressing workforce needs, thus fulfilling primary objectives of the College and Career Academy Network.

Individual academies and the Network as a whole should encourage opportunities that are realistic and fit economic needs. Academies are given significant agency and independence in determining their curriculum, which is heavily influenced by local stakeholders. At the local level, academy administrators should pay attention to local workforce gaps and opportunities. Academies should also work to fill workforce needs at the state level, such as the industrial and geographical areas where Georgia is expected to grow. This effort should include the Georgia Department of Labor, which publishes projected workforce trends, labor market information and occupational outlooks. 

Academies should report average wage earnings for graduates.

Wages are an essential employment-related metric. Parents and students will naturally be more inclined to opt into an academy if it has a track record of helping graduates achieve higher-paying jobs. Administrators could highlight this benefit by reporting wage earnings for academy graduates, especially for those working in high-demand jobs. Furthermore, the promise of earning higher wages at younger ages was included in the Department of Education’s stated purpose for including dual enrollment in college and career academies.

Academies should report their graduation rates compared to those of their associated school districts.

As recently as 2018, academies reported their graduation rates compared to those of their respective local school districts. This metric did not endure beyond COVID-19. Not every academy reported both figures, but the ones that did almost always posted a higher graduation rate than the district. While offering an improved chance at graduation is not a primary concern for college and career academies, it is certainly a positive outcome. High school graduation is a significant indicator of success by many standards across America. In 2018, among schools that reported them, graduation rates for college and career academies were on average just over 6 percentage points higher than for their respective school districts. Even if a student does not gain pathway-relevant employment or gain a significant amount of college credits, improving his or her likelihood to graduate is a positive outcome.

Academies should disaggregate entries by race and economic status and compare each to district averages when applicable.

Gathering participation and completion data by student demographic groups would help to determine potential inequities. If these outcomes are significantly better or worse than state or school district results, it would encourage a review of academy programs to find any positive or negative points of divergence in curriculum and opportunity. Equity reports are frequently recommended in return-on-investment analyses of similar programs in different states. An authoritative source on this topic is ExcelinEd, which publishes analyses of policies related to student pathways in several states.

Academies should report the percentage of graduates living on government assistance.

Finally, many stakeholders naturally hold higher expectations for the results of nonstandard education. Even if they are not directly involved, all taxpayers should have an interest in the success and viability of college and career academies. A successful academy benefits the local economy – and since they are currently being funded either way, it is reasonable for taxpayers to expect better outcomes. Consultants and administrators in other states recommend tracking how many academy graduates receive government assistance for a certain period after graduation. Given that these programs are specifically designed to lead students to employment, taxpayers have a right to expect fewer graduates of college and career academies to receive assistance.

Some of these recommendations may raise privacy concerns, and schools should ensure that they protect sensitive student information. However, if the viability of student pathways is to be accurately measured, longitudinal data that follows students into the workforce is a necessary part of the process.

No matter which metrics are added to or subtracted from what academies report, it is vital that the same ones are reported year to year. As mentioned, the COVID-19 pandemic made data collection extremely difficult. However, there is no way to track trends, build an informative database or measure a return on taxpayer investment without consistency across annual reports.

Each item below disaggregated by all, race and economic status and each compared to the district average when applicable
Graduation rates
Percent employed or enrolled in higher education shortly after graduation
Percent employed in their pathway
Percent employed in one of Georgia’s high demand careers
Average earnings for those employed
Percent receiving public assistance


College and career academies are popular among legislators, and the Network’s growth over the years reflects communities’ openness to implementing the concept. The modern American workforce calls for a wide variety of skills and specializations, and opportunities like work-based learning can help high school students graduate more prepared and qualified. Features such as the ability to earn college credits can also prove exceptionally useful as tuition costs across the country remain a burden on students and families.

However, no matter how attractive a program is in theory, it must demonstrate effectiveness in practice. External factors and the relatively independent nature of college and career academies have made consistent data gathering difficult in the past, but there are several opportunities for improvement. College and career academies impact several policy areas, and affect many stakeholders throughout Georgia. Students and parents, school districts, local businesses and taxpayers all have a vested interest in their success. Citizens need to know more about their investments. If we are unsure as to the level of academies’ success and viability, we cannot hope to make the right improvements to ensure the program’s sustainability.

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