What's Working: Mixing High School with Vocational Training in Michigan

Christina Shockley
February 14, 2011

In Ann Arbor, Michigan, Washtenaw Technical Middle College has been able to sustain and measure their success in helping young people graduate from high school ready to complete a college or technical degree.

As part of the Michigan Public Radio series “What’s Working,” Morning Edition Host Christina Shockley sits down with
Karl Covert, the Dean of Washtenaw Technical Middle College. Here's the interview.

Located on the campus of Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor,
Washtenaw Technical Middle College offers high school students the
chance to complete their high school education in a college setting,
while also earning either an associate’s degree or technical skill

The Middle College was founded in 1997 by a group of educators who
were concerned about two things: high school graduates being unprepared
for college and a decreasing number of vocational training programs in
the area.

says many people think vocational training is just fancy language for
shop class, but that’s not the case. “It’s actually computer forensics,
it’s 3-D animation, it’s those types of courses also,” explains Covert.


“Students weren’t prepared when they went to
college. Only fifty percent of the students that enter a four-year
program full-time are complete with that program at the end of six
years. And also, over forty percent of the students who have a high
school diploma in their hand when they go to take college courses aren’t
actually prepared. They have to take remedial coursework,” says Covert.

says by merging a rigorous, college-like high school education with a
variety of vocational options, Washtenaw Technical Middle College
directly addresses the concerns of its founders.

  • “The
    program’s main two goals are to make sure that students are not only
    college ready, but successful in college classes. And then secondly,
    open up a variety of courses so that they can explore career options and
    then get various career, technical, and vocational training.”

says that this type of two-prong approach also combines the academic
with the technical, making students realize the importance of
understanding core academic subjects when it comes to pursuing a
professional career.

The benefits of a program like this are
far-reaching, says Covert, affecting the students, the community, and
the future workforce of the area.

  • “We're seeing great
    success educationally, which benefits the students. One of our great
    advantages is our relationship with Washtenaw Community College. So our
    students get to take classes there, and Washtenaw Community College
    continues to look at the economy and develop certificates and programs
    that the Michigan economy needs, and our students are able to access
    those programs.”

In the fourteen years that Washtenaw
Technical Middle College has been around, Covert says the program has
become an example for other community colleges in the state.

  • “We’ve
    sustained what it means to be this sort of program. We have measured
    results. And I think we’re something that any other community college in
    the state of Michigan could replicate and do it successfully.”

other programs like Washtenaw Technical Middle College were to open
across the state, Covert thinks the state would benefit in a few ways.

  • “You’d
    have a more educated workforce. Our students prove that they can be
    successful in a college classroom… Also, I think if we look at the
    economy, our economy is becoming more technically oriented, so we need
    to create a workforce that’s ready for that sort of job growth, that
    sort of economy. And I think our program is really at the cusp of that
    sort of educational experience.”

For the full audio and more stories like this, visit Michigan Public Radio at the link below.