Career Academies, Powered by United Way: Addressing Widening Education and Employment Gaps

Thursday, December 3, 2015

It’s not a new story: expectations that by 2020, 74 percent of all Minnesota jobs will require postsecondary education; statistics show the state isn’t on track to meet the demand and Minnesota leads the nation with dismal education and employment numbers for low-income African American and other communities of color. Greater Twin Cities United Way, examined successful programs from around the country then galvanized leadership across sectors: high school educators, postsecondary institutions and employers. The outcome resulted in Career Academies also known as Pathways. 

Headlines trumpet the news of Minnesota having the worst achievement gap in the nation— a 35 percent disparity in graduation rates between white and black students. By graduating students of color at the same rate as white students, Minnesota would add $1.3 billion to the state's economy by 2020.

Career Academies is a comprehensive method using cross-sector partnerships to prepare students for academic and workplace success and supply future workforce needs of local employers. The concept is gaining national momentum in education – the Pathways To Prosperity Network: Jobs For The Future and Harvard Graduate School of Education.

United Way supports 13 Career Academies in five school districts; more than 270 students in Bloomington, Burnsville, Minneapolis, St. Paul and White Bear Lake. United Way is also investing and partnering with Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC) on Destination: Diploma to Degree, recognized earlier this year by the United States Labor Department. The program helps more than 150 students at risk of dropping out of high school as they pursue postsecondary credentials and the goal of sustaining careers.

United Way is collaborating to address the vast education and skills gaps by establishing career pathway partnerships in high-demand industries including construction, healthcare, information technology and manufacturing. The result? Reimagining the 9th through 12th grade classroom experience; it’s not learning as usual. 

Sarah Caruso, president and chief executive officer of Greater Twin Cities United Way explains: “Improving education in our region is part of our core work. That’s why we’re leading the establishment of Career Academies. We assessed what was working across the country, and then aligned and connected existing initiatives by high schools, colleges and employers around this shared solution. We applied a laser focus on the issue, strong collaboration, and donor support from many of the best institutions in the Twin Cities region.” 

Although still in the early stages in the Twin Cities, the partnership between United Way and Bloomington School District 271 is garnering national attention. Since receiving United Way funding and implementing the program, Bloomington is fielding calls from other school districts across the country. The introduction and immersion in professional environments in the classrooms begins much earlier in their academic journey. Students don’t rely on the more traditional path of exploring options in a post-secondary setting.  

District superintendent Les Fujitake says, “Bloomington Public Schools is very grateful to Greater Twin Cities United Way for supporting our Career and College Academy, both financially with a very generous grant, and with a shared commitment to help high school students explore career pathways that will prepare them for opportunities beyond graduation.”

How does United Way’s innovation translate into change for the Twin Cities region? The leadership stress continued innovation is necessary to reflect the nonprofit’s history of providing opportunities for families and youth living in poverty and children of color. By 2017, an estimated 600 students will benefit from Career Academies. Looking ahead to 2024, it’s anticipated that number will climb to 4,500 students employed or on the path for placement in higher-wage, high-demand industries, then leading to lasting careers.

See the complete list of Career Academies: Powered by United Way and initiative donors please visit

About Greater Twin Cities United Way 

Celebrating 100 years and ranked as Minnesota’s largest nongovernmental social services funder, Greater Twin Cities United Way collaborates with business, government and nonprofit organizations to build pathways out of poverty. We LIVE UNITED to help children succeed, stabilize families and empower healthy lives. To learn more about giving or volunteering, visit Learn about our free, 24-hour statewide multilingual information and referral service, United Way 2-1-1 at Greater Twin Cities United Way serves Anoka, Carver, Chisago, Dakota, Hennepin, Isanti, Ramsey, Scott and western Washington counties. For more information call (612) 340-7400.