Opinion | How Michigan’s early middle colleges transform students’ lives

Beverley Geltner's career in urban, suburban and international  K-doctoral education focuses on expanding access, opportunities and inclusion for all.

The “quiet” Michigan education revolution known as the early middle college (EMC), now in its fourth decade, has become a nationally known gold star of educational reform. This year more than 13,000 Michigan students attend early middle colleges.

Michigan offers three early college models that can begin as early as ninth grade:

  • A high school whose entire student population is enrolled as EMC students on a community college or university campus
  • An early middle college program designed to serve fewer than 100 percent of a high school’s student population who take high school courses at their local high school along with college classes either in the high school or on a college campus
  • An early middle college consortium comprising multiple school districts offering college classes in a high school or college setting through one coordinating agency such as an intermediate school district

In 1990, Mott Middle College High School--the first Michigan Middle College—was launched on the campus of Mott Community College in Flint, the creation of three partners:  the Genesee Intermediate School District, Mott Community College and the Michigan Department of Education. Since then, thousands of Michigan students have successfully earned their high school diplomas and some college credit through Michigan’s Early Middle College program. All EMC programs include a fifth year of high school during which students can earn additional college credit and even an associate’s degree with 60 hours of credit and/or professional technical certification. The State of Michigan covers all college tuition and textbook costs, thereby shaving $10,000 to $50,000 off the costs of a college education. 

All Michigan early middle colleges share common characteristics:

  • They are partnerships of two or more educational bodies such as K-12 schools, single or multiple school districts, and higher education institutions, in some instances including a third partner such as a regional hospital or a private technical enterprise. 
  • Their common mission is to help all students including the many undereducated, unsuccessful and socioeconomically deprived earn their high school diploma while simultaneously earning college credit. In recent years, EMCs also have been serving highly motivated successful college-bound high-school students.
  • Their common approach includes comprehensive wraparound student support services to meet students’ academic, social and emotional needs; expanded learning opportunities; and continuous teacher research-based interventions and innovations to increase student success. 

Currently, all Michigan community colleges have at least one early middle college partnership with a local school district. Some four-year universities and colleges also participate in the programs, such as Eastern Michigan University, the University of Michigan-Flint, Lake Superior State University, Lawrence Technological University, Northern Michigan University, Rochester University, Saginaw Valley State University, Baker College and Davenport College.

The Michigan Early Middle College Association (MEMCA)--a voluntary alliance of ECM educators—serves as the coordinating guide of the state’s early middle colleges. Led since its inception by Dr. Chery Wagonlander, the founding principal of Mott Middle College High School and the driving force behind the Michigan Early Middle College movement, MEMCA has deepened the partnership between Michigan early middle colleges, the Michigan Department of Education, the Office of Career and Technical Education, and other public and private agencies and institutions. It cultivates the leadership capacities of its members by guiding various peer-led professional development networks to meet the unique needs of Michigan early middle colleges administrators, teachers, counselors and students, college admission officers, and college of education administrators and faculty.

In 2018, speaking of the important mission of education in Michigan, Mark Schlissel, president of the University of Michigan, stated, “Talent is equally distributed but opportunity is not”.  Michigan’s early middle college movement provides a powerful affirmation of that belief, as it expands opportunity to high school youth throughout Michigan – from Escanaba to Monroe, from urban centers like Detroit, Flint, Lansing and Jackson to rural and sparsely populated communities such as Byron, Bark River and St. Ignace.

The “quiet” Michigan education revolution is a testament to the courage, commitment and capacity of Michigan’s educational visionaries to offer unimagined opportunities to all the state’s talented youth.

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S. Bennett
Mon, 01/20/2020 - 10:28pm

I would like to see a more students be able to attend middle college. In my community, middle college opportunities are not based on any economic need. There is a rigorous application process to be accepted and very few students are accepted. The dual enrollment option is more easily accessible, but that option limits a student to one 4 credit class or two 3 credit classes per semester. In either case, a student must provide their own transportation. This may rule out these options for families that can't effort an additional car or the time to transport their student.

Fri, 01/24/2020 - 9:25am

Why do you think that middle college opportunities should be allocated based on economic need instead of based on the student's emotional maturity and academic preparedness? My and two friends' family's experiences says that almost all the students who were academically qualified (i.e. performing at or above grade level) were admitted to our local middle college program on their first application, and every single one who missed out the first year they applied was admitted on their second application.

The limitations on dual enrollment credits are imposed by individual school systems, not the state of Michigan, and are based on protecting their budgets, not on the best interests or academic ability of their students. A parent who knows about Michigan Virtual University might be able to persuade their local school district to enroll their student in more MVU on-line AP or college-credit courses than their usual policy on dual-enrollment permits. The MVU courses are inexpensive for the school district, usually about half as much as enrolling a student at a local community college, and require no mid-school-day transportation. Their courses were developed with grants from the Michigan Department of Education, in part to allow small and remote school districts to offer a much wider range of advanced courses affordably.

MVU is also intended to serve students with illnesses or disabilities whose situation or need for specialized transportation services require on-line access to remedial, regular or advanced course work. MVU instructors are all certified teachers, and every student is assigned a mentor-coach (also a certified teacher) who will cooperate and communicate with parents as needed to make sure their student has the equipment , information, and support they need to succeed with on-line learning.

Thu, 01/23/2020 - 9:43am

My younger sons attended Washtenaw Technical Middle College and excelled there. Middle College programs in Michigan provide a life-changing opportunity to get a career certification, an AA, or the first half of a BS or BA degree for those students whose K-8 schools have prepared them adequately to be ready for college-level work. Even more importantly, the effective anti-bullying policies and programs at WTMC provided them a safe haven from the anti-intellectual, and anti-disability accommodations atmosphere in our local public school system.