NAF was created by philanthropist Sanford I. Weill. His proposal was accepted by the New York City Board of Education resulted in the opening of the first Academy of Finance in a Brooklyn public high school in 1982. The program was designed specifically to address the lack of opportunity for young people in New York City.
In 1987, NAF's Hospitality and Tourism theme was launched with the opening of two pilot Academies, one in Miami, Florida and another in Richmond Hill, New York, with support from the American Express Foundation.
In 2000 NAF piloted a third theme, opening Academies of Information Technology in 12 high schools across the country with support from Lucent, AT&T, United Technologies, GTE/Verizon, Oracle, Computer Associates and Compaq.
In 2002, the first set of Career Academies outside the US were set up in the United Kingdom by Career Academies UK, affiliated to NAF
Today there are 130 Academies of Hospitality and Tourism, 159 Academies of Information Technology, and 318 Academies of Finance located in 40 states and the District of Columbia supported locally by over 2,000 businesses and corporations.
Recently, the NAF has created a fourth academy soon to grow in numbers like the other three major academies. This new academy is known as the Academy of Engineering.
As Weill explained in his testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee: