The Upjohn Institute Blog

Impacts of Career Academies on High School Reform: An Overview

Posted Tuesday, August 21, 2012 - 10:30

Bridget Timmeney
The Career Academy concept was introduced four decades ago and has been evaluated extensively during the last three decades. Overall, Career Academies operate as small learning communities within a larger school, combine a college preparatory curriculum with a career theme, and foster meaningful partnerships with employers and postsecondary education. These components, combined with several “gold star” evaluative studies showing positive impacts, are cited as the reason the number of Career Academies has grown to over 5,000 schools supporting this concept. Indeed, these Academies embody ideas promoted by several major high school reform movements.
The gold standard of research regarding the impact of Career Academies was conducted over a 17-year period by James Kemple et al. at the Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation (MDRC). Since 1993, MDRC has been conducting a uniquely rigorous evaluation of the Career Academy approach with a random-assignment research design in a diverse group of nine high schools across the United States. This study found Career Academies to be effective in improving outcomes for students during and after high school. Some argue that, given this evidence, career academies have therefore become the most durable and best-tested component of a high school reform strategy that prepares students for both college and careers.
In the most recent (2008) MDRC report, the authors document how Career Academies influenced students’ job prospects and postsecondary educational attainment in the eight years following their expected graduation. The sample reviewed includes over 1,400 young people, approximately 85 percent of whom are Hispanic or African American. Findings include the following:

  • The Career Academies produced sustained earnings gains that averaged 11 percent (or $2,088) more per year for Academy group members than for individuals in the non-Academy group—a $16,704 boost in total earnings over the eight years of follow-up (in 2006 dollars).
  • These labor market impacts were concentrated among young men. Because of increased wages, more hours worked, and increased employment stability, real earnings for young men in the Academy group increased by $3,731 (17 percent) a year—or nearly $30,000 over eight years—compared to their control group.
  • However, while the Career Academies served as viable pathways to a variety of postsecondary educational opportunities, they do not appear to be more effective than options available to the non-Academy group. More than 90 percent of both groups graduated from high school or received a General Educational Development (GED) certificate, and half completed a postsecondary credential.
  • The Career Academies produced an increase in the percentage of young people living independently with children and a spouse or partner. Young men also experienced positive impacts on marriage and being custodial parents.
The authors conclude that, for youth, investments in career-related experiences during high school can produce substantial and sustained improvements in labor market prospects and transitions to adulthood. In fact, Career Academies are one of the few youth-focused interventions that have been found to improve the labor market prospects of young men. The authors recognize that Career Academies have proven to be challenging to implement on a large scale, especially when fidelity to the model’s components is held in high regard. It must be noted that this study’s results apply only to schools that maintained this fidelity and may not apply to programs that are partially implemented or that use only selected features of the Academy approach. The authors encourage further research to determine the effects of key Academy components.
Bridget Timmeney can be reached at

Tagged In: Education and Training

The Labor Shortage?

Posted Monday, June 18, 2012 - 10:23

Brian Pittelko
Unemployment remains high, but businesses claim they are not able to find qualified workers to fill positions. A recent survey from the ManpowerGroup addresses some of the reasons why businesses may not be finding the people they need.
The primary report is for the entirety of the Americas, but some data are available for the United States alone. According to the survey, the biggest reasons U.S. companies are not hiring are as follows:

  • A lack of available talent or no applicants (55 percent)
  • Applicants are looking for more pay than offered (54 percent)
  • Applicants lack experience (44 percent)
Surveyed U.S. employers are using the following strategies to overcome their hiring challenges:
  • Providing additional training to existing staff (28 percent)
  • Appointing people who have the capacity to learn the necessary skills (36 percent)
  • Focusing more on staff retention when recruitment is difficult (37 percent)
Notice that “increasing offered wages” is not on the results. I think the statement that could be accurately made is that employers cannot find qualified workers at the wages they want to pay.
Another theory is that the lack of skills that employers suggest is the problem is actually employers being too restrictive in their hiring criteria. Peter Cappelli, writing for Time, believes that to be the case; he also advances the premise that companies are unwilling to train a good-quality applicant to meet their specific needs. He cites a posting for a cotton candy machine operating position requiring previous success in cotton-candy machine operating.
There are currently 12.7 million unemployed people in the United States, and 42.8 percent have been unemployed 27 weeks or longer.

Brian Pittelko can be reached at

Tagged In: Education and Training, Recession and Recovery

Money and Achievement Matter More Than Color. Almost

Posted Thursday, May 24, 2012 - 10:37

Bridget Timmeney

Harvard’s Center for Education Policy Research recently reported the results of their initiative to develop common indicators that help determine the health and performance of school systems. Begun in 2008 with a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the mission of this five-year project, known as the Strategic Data Project, is to assist school districts in their use of data to inform district strategic planning and improve student achievement. This project’s purpose is rooted in the premise that student-level data generated at certain points along the educational continuum can have predictive value not only for the school, but also as an early warning system that flags the need for interventions or accelerations. In addition, the notion is that education systems can use these indicators to benchmark their progress—both against themselves over time, and in relation to other districts with similar populations. In the case of this particular announcement, the data offer confirmation that a student’s prior school achievement performance and family socioeconomic status, as measured by federal Free and Reduced Priced Lunch eligibility, can be used as predictors of college-going patterns.
Announced in April, the indicators are derived from rigorous analytical studies conducted using 10 years of historical data in partnership with five school systems across the United States (Boston, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Fort Worth, and Fulton and Gwinnett County Schools in Georgia). The indicators focus on two education policy areas: 1) college-going patterns of students in the districts and 2) teacher distribution and retention patterns. Within the college-going patterns performance indicator series, three measures are tracked: 1) demographic factors and college-going rates, 2) the high school effect on college-going, and 3) the college match.
The study’s findings are significant. Figure 1 below illustrates that when students’ prior achievement is considered, the gap in college enrollment between Black and White students narrows. Further, when the combined factors of prior achievement and socioeconomic status  are considered, the Black–White gap in college enrollment disappears. In fact, in some districts, Districts B and D, it reverses direction such that Black students enroll in college at higher rates than their White counterparts.

The findings are not so promising for Latino students. Figure 2 shows that when comparing Latino and White students, with the exception of District C, sizable college enrollment gaps remain between the two racial groups of students, even when the researchers accounted for prior achievement and socioeconomic status. The study recognizes that there are other successful post–high school options, such as enlisting in the military or enrollment in a postsecondary institution not included by the National Student Clearinghouse. Regardless, there is still a sizable gap in college-going rates for Latino students, who may face additional barriers to college enrollment that merit deeper analysis.

Bridget Timmeney can be reached at

Tagged In: Education and Training

Long-Term Budget Outlook for State and Local Government Is Grim

Posted Friday, April 20, 2012 - 09:07

George Erickcek
State and local governments played a stabilizing role for the national economy during the last recession and through the following moderate recovery. Due in large part to federal revenue sharing and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), state and local government employment levels held fairly stable during the recession, even as private employment dropped dramatically. Still, the nation’s state and local governments lost 450,000 jobs from January 2007 through March 2012, a decline of 2.3 percent. In comparison, private employment fell by 4.1 percent.

In the long-term future, however, state and local governments could become a constant drag on the national economy. According to the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO), the fiscal conditions of the nation’s state and local governments will deteriorate through 2060, requiring these governments to either raise taxes or reduce expenditures and employment—or both. Either measure would slow economic activity within their boundaries. The primary reason for this forecast budget imbalance is the anticipated rising cost of health care compensation for these governmental units’ current employees and retirees. To fix the expected annual hole in the state and local governments’ budgets would require either a 12.7 percent reduction in expenditures each year or a similar annual increase in governmental revenues, or some combination of both, according to the GAO.
Regarding the impact of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (commonly known as the Affordable Care Act, or the ACA), the GAO believes that it will affect governmental units differently depending on whether their current Medicaid eligibility requirements provide the level of coverage stipulated by the ACA.
Since it is likely that many states may find it necessary to cut education expenditures to fill this potential gap, a trade-off between eds and meds may be an ongoing debate in many capitols across the nation.

George Erickcek can be reached at

Tagged In: Recession and Recovery

How Are Younger Workers Faring over Time?

Posted Tuesday, April 17, 2012 - 07:31

Brad R. Watts
When it comes to younger workers, I typically hear two different stories: one suggests that young workers face a grim future of limited jobs and perspectives, while another suggests that younger workers—particularly those with in-demand technical skills—hold the key to our future economic success and are in high demand. It is likely that, on an individual level, both of the statements contain truth in at least some cases. However, it also brings up the simple question of how younger generations of workers are faring, relative to workers in past generations.
To address the question, I tabulated average wage and salary earnings for young workers relative to older workers for points over a four-decade period. As shown in the chart below, relative to earnings of older workers, the average earnings of all young adults aged 25 to 34 have consistently declined over the past four decades; in 1980 the average worker aged 25 to 34 earned 93.2 percent of the average earnings of older workers, versus only 76.2 percent in 2010.

Source: Author’s analysis of census microdata from Ruggels et al., Integrated Public Use Microdata Series: Version 5.0 [Machine-readable database]. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2010.

When the data are examined by education level, the numbers tell a different story for younger workers, however, as shown in the next table. Although workers aged 25 to 34 with a four-year degree or higher level of education earn a lower wage relative to older workers with the same level of education, the pattern over time for these workers has been quite different than it has been for less-educated workers. Over time, the relative average wage for young college-educated workers has increased slightly, from 67.4 percent in 1980 to 69.2 percent in 2010—although the most recent number is down slightly from higher readings in 1990 and 2000. While the relative earnings of younger workers without a bachelor’s degree or higher level of education has been trending downward, younger educated workers have been able to hold their own.

Source: Author’s analysis of census microdata from Ruggels et al., Integrated Public Use Microdata Series: Version 5.0 [Machine-readable database]. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2010.

It comes as no great surprise that younger workers earn less, on average, than older workers; it is well-known that experience is a trait highly valued by employers. More concerning is the downward trend over time, which does suggest, at least for those who do not obtain a four-year college degree, that the economic marketplace has become a more difficult place for young people today than it was during earlier times. While the low relative average wage that younger college-degree holders face suggests that the career ladder is long, the fact that the trend in relative earnings has been slightly positive over time indicates that the returns to education remain high, even as more young people attend college and obtain degrees.
Brad Watts can be reached at

Tagged In: Education and Training, Employment and Compensation