Mixing high school coursework with vocational training

Feb 14, 2011

This week, for our series “What’s Working,” Morning Edition Host Christina Shockley sits down with Karl Covert, the Dean of Washtenaw Technical Middle College.

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 certification.

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.

“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.

Covert 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.

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.”

Covert 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.”

 If 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.”

By Eliot Johnson - Michigan Radio Newsroom