The exact nature of Michigan's vocational economy may have changed over the last century or so, but the value of a trade school education in the Wolverine State could be higher than ever. Manufacturing -- in aerospace and military defense as well as automobiles and electronics -- is one of the state's top industries, and vocations in sectors like agribusiness and cybersecurity have made their way into the state's economic core.
Job markets differ from city to city, so certain trade and technical schools in Michigan may provide their students with especially good job prospects after graduation. Two Michigan cities, Ann Arbor and Jackson, were recently named among the top 10 cities in the U.S. for healthcare workers, and graduates of HVAC trade schools in Michigan can find wages above the state average in cities like Battle Creek, Monroe and Kalamazoo.
Why is Michigan good for vocational/career schools?
Michigan has one of the widest cost gaps between its two-year schools and four-year universities. Students at community colleges and career and vocational schools in Michigan paid an average of around $3,900 for the year in 2018-19, while universities charged an average of more than $13,400. That's a cost increase of nearly $10,000 -- almost 350 percent more.
Michigan also works with young students to raise awareness of the value of career technical education (CTE) at the college level. One out of four high school students in the state take at least some of their coursework through Michigan CTE programs, and close to 40 percent of the total community college student body is seeking some type of Michigan CTE certification.
Michigan is a great place for career education, and we've got a rundown of the specific schools that stand out above the rest. Check out this list of the best trade and vocational schools in Michigan and keep reading to the bottom of the page for info on how to apply for financial aid in Michigan, as well as other helpful resources.
Top Vocational Schools in Michigan
Numerous institutions offer CTE certification in Michigan, so we collected data from U.S. Department of Education sources like the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and analyzed it to find out which ones were the best. Here's our list of institutions that earned high marks for affordability, flexibility, program variety and student success:
Lansing Community College isn't just one of the best trade schools in Michigan, it's one of the best anywhere in the country. Just one other two-year institution in the U.S. outranked LCC in our study of the best vocational schools nationwide. It's one of the larger schools in the state by enrollment and features five specialized regional learning facilities in addition to its two full-service campuses.
What vocational programs LCC offers: This mid-Michigan school has one of the largest catalogs among all community colleges and vocational schools in the country. A certificate in surveying is available for aspiring civil engineering technologists, and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) students can earn any of three certificates and three Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degrees entirely online.
Notably, in 2019 LCC was recognized by the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security as a National Center of Academic Excellence for its cyber-defense program.
Established in 1954, this Detroit-area college is another one of the larger trade schools in Michigan. Total enrollment here was over 42,000 in 2018, with more than half that number pursuing degrees, certificates or other for-credit programs. Close to 9,500 students earned at least some of their credits in the virtual classroom, as well, so you can expect to have plenty of online classmates if you choose to take the distance education route.
What vocational programs Macomb offers: Students here can earn an A.A.S. in diagnostic medical sonography, one of the fastest-growing and highest-paying healthcare fields for workers with an associate degree or less. A range of information technology (IT) programs are available here as well, including an A.A.S. or certificate in game programming.
Flexibility is one of the top priorities at this Ann Arbor school, where classes are offered seven days a week, at night and online for students with limited room in their schedules. The average net price of an education at Washtenaw Community College is manageable as well, with students paying an average of less than $4,300 per year after grant and scholarship aid is applied.
What vocational programs WCC offers: More than a dozen degrees and certificates in advanced manufacturing can be earned at WCC, including a 12-credit certificate in computer numerical control (CNC) machine tool programming. Over 30 programs, in disciplines like business administration and cybersecurity, are offered entirely online.
If you're hoping for some help paying for school, you might want to give Delta College some extra consideration. Students at this medium-sized institution near Saginaw Bay were awarded $26 million in financial aid in 2017-18, including close to $600,000 in institutional scholarships. Delta also offers tuition payment plans for students who might have an easier time affording their college costs when they're not asked to pay in one lump sum.
What vocational programs Delta offers: Students looking to train for an auto mechanic career have a rare opportunity at Delta. The General Motors Automotive Service Excellence Program (GM ASEP) includes work experience sections at GM dealerships or ACDelco professional service centers. Several criminal justice programs are offered here, including an associate degree or certificate in digital forensics.
Located on 360 acres near the Lake Michigan shoreline, West Shore Community College was established in 1967 and works to enrich its community in a variety of ways. Numerous recreation facilities are available on campus, including an ice arena that offers figure skating, hockey and open skating opportunities for area residents. It also boasts an average out-of-pocket cost of less than $3,800, the lowest net price among all schools on our list.
What vocational programs WSCC offers: Around 50 degree and certificate programs are available at this western Michigan school, including certificates in corrections, medical assisting and office information systems. Vocational associate degrees at WSCC include study plans in precision machine technology, mechanical systems and agricultural operations.
Known locally as Bay College, this Upper Peninsula institution serves roughly 1,850 students each semester. It was home to the first Michigan Technical Education Center (M-TEC) in the state, which focuses on technical skill training and professional development opportunities for working-age adults. More than 230 scholarships are available to Bay College students, both through private endowments and the institution's own Bay College Foundation.
What vocational programs Bay College offers: Wilderness lovers can study forestry as a concentration within Bay College's A.S. program in biology, and those interested in high-level law enforcement can earn an Associate of Arts (A.A.) degree in homeland security. Pre-professional programs are available in physical therapy, veterinary medicine, natural resources, engineering, law and more.
This small school in the northern Lower Peninsula is one of the top online trade schools in Michigan by percentage of enrollment. Nearly 60 percent of the students enrolled here in 2017-18 took at least some of their courses in the virtual classroom. Some of the degree programs offered at Kirtland Community college are delivered in a hybrid format, combining in-person classroom education with online courses.
What vocational programs KCC offers: Trade school programs at KCC cover a wide variety of subjects, from welding and fabricating to cosmetology and esthetician training. Online programs offered here include associate degrees in business management, cybersecurity and health information technology (HIT), as well as a certificate in entrepreneurship for aspiring small business owners.
Kalamazoo Valley Community College is one of the more affordable vocational schools in Michigan, posting an average net price of just over $4,100 for the 2017-18 academic year. Students returning to school after taking some time off should be able to find like-minded classmates here -- roughly 8,000 students enroll in for-credit classes at KVCC each semester, and 21 percent of them are between 25 and 39 years old.
What vocational programs KVCC offers: Culinary students interested in the future of food production can earn an A.A.S. in sustainable food systems, and both an associate degree and certificate program in sustainable brewing hopes to bring important ecological concerns into the conversation among members of Michigan's historic legacy of beer brewing.
This institution at the far western tip of the Upper Peninsula could be a great choice for students who prefer a close-knit learning environment. Gogebic Community College features a student body of around 1,000 learners and a student-faculty ratio of 15:1, which suggests that professors and administrators are likely to have time available to help you one-on-one when you need it.
What vocational programs GCC offers: The commercial motor vehicle program at GCC is unique in that it can train you for a commercial driver license (CDL) before you hold a temporary instructional permit. It's also one of the few career schools in Michigan to offer education in ski area management, via an associate degree program that includes 12 credits of work experience as a capstone.
The service area of Wayne County Community College District is the largest by far among Detroit trade schools, containing all 2.3 million people in the greater Detroit area. Founded in 1967 with no buildings or facilities of its own, WCCCD now operates five full-service vocational campuses throughout the city and forges links with young learners through public school partnerships that help high school students transition to college.
What vocational programs WCCCD offers: Aspiring first responders can choose from three separate programs in fire protection technology that follow the Fire and Emergency Serves Higher Education (FESHE) model curriculum developed by the National Fire Academy. WCCCD also partners with Michigan State University to offer a groundbreaking program in fruit and vegetable crop management.
Trade School Financial Aid in Michigan
The average cost of tuition at trade and vocational schools in Michigan might be around $10,000 less per year than the university average, but certain programs may take longer than others or have additional fees. Fortunately, vocational students in Michigan can earn college grants and Michigan state scholarships to help pay for school.
One document you should know about from the very beginning is the FAFSA, or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The FAFSA collects information about your income and other factors that help determine whether or not you qualify for certain aid programs. It's also your main route to federal grants and loans. Learn more about the FAFSA and other important financial aid concepts in our financial aid guide.
Here's a short list of scholarships and grants available exclusively to Michigan students:
Michigan Competitive Scholarship (MCS) - Michigan residents who score over 1200 on the SAT can apply for this statewide award of up to $1,000 while they're pursuing their first degree on at least a half-time schedule.
Tuition Incentive Program (TIP) - Recent high school graduates who meet the Michigan Medicaid eligibility requirement may qualify to have their tuition and most mandatory fees covered during their certificate or associate degree program.
Children of Veterans Tuition Grant - This program is available to Michigan undergraduates between the ages of 16 and 26 whose parent was either killed or disabled as a result of their military service. It provides up to $2,800 per year for qualifying full-time students.
Initiatives for Vocational School Students in Michigan
Several programs exist at the state and institutional levels to help expand access to career education. Whether they help create scholarships for undergraduates in Michigan or college grants that help schools improve their training programs, initiatives like these work to keep Michigan trade school programs available and affordable:
Funding for vocational students in Michigan
The Michigan College Access Network provides a variety of funding opportunities for career and technical schools in Michigan, including grants designed assist with the development of programs to increase college readiness and help students stay in school until graduation.
The Community College Skilled Trades Equipment Grant (CCSTEP)is offered by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation to help Michigan vocational schools afford the equipment they need to provide cutting-edge technical education.
Michigan policies that benefit vocational students
The Michigan legislature passed a bill in 2016 that allows vocational and community colleges in the state to expand their in-district tuition areas to decrease college costs for students in nearby counties.
The Michigan Community College NETwork (MCCNET) functions as a one-stop shop for students looking for hard data and other information about potential destinations for their trade school training.
School-specific program initiatives in Michigan
High-achieving students at Kellogg Community College (KCC) might qualify for one of the KCC Foundation Gold Key Scholarships, which award $2,500 each year for two years with an additional $1,000 available for continued education after they complete their program.
Glen Oaks Community College provides numerous scholarships through its institutional foundation, including the Dr. David H. & Patricia A. Devier Scholarship available to all full-time, first-generation students.
Resources for Vocational Students and Vocational Job Seekers in Michigan
Check the career and technical education section of the Michigan Department of Education website for info on the state's approach to advancing vocational school training and career readiness.
The Michigan Community College Association works to advocate on behalf of the state's community and vocational schools and their students and provides news and updates on advocacy and legislative policies.
Most career and technical schools in Michigan are accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Individual programs may also be accredited by agencies like the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN).
There's also some high-level data on Michigan vocational schools available through the state's page at national career technical education portal Advance CTE. If you're looking for national trade school info for comparison, the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) is a great place to start.
Using the National Center for Education Statistics' Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard, we generated a list of schools that met the following criteria:
- Institution type is less than 2 years, greater than 2 & less than 4 years
- Accredited by at least 1 agency (institutional accreditation)
- The school falls under one of the following classifications: (Carnegie Classification 2015: Undergraduate Instructional Program)
- Associate's Colleges: Mixed Transfer/Vocational & Technical
- These institutions awarded associate's degrees but no bachelor's degrees with 30-49% of awards (degrees and certificates) in career & technical programs.
- Associate's Colleges: High Vocational & Technical
- These institutions awarded associate's degrees but no bachelor's degrees with more than 50% of awards (degrees and certificates) in career & technical programs.
- Special Focus: Two-Year Institution
- These institutions awarded associate's degrees but no bachelor's degrees with typically more than 75% of awards in a single career & technical program
- Associate's Colleges: Mixed Transfer/Vocational & Technical
We ranked the resulting colleges on the following criteria:
- Cost of attendance, based on the average net price for students receiving scholarship and grant aid, and the total cost of tuition, fees, books and supplies, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
- Number of Associate degree and undergraduate Certificate programs offered, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
- Percent of undergraduate students enrolled in any distance education classes, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017
- Full-time student retention rate & part-time retention rate (if full-time retention rate is not available, then use part-time retention rate), National Center for Education Statistics, Fall 2017
- The graduation rate in 150% time, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017-18
- Percent of students working and not enrolled 6 years after entry, College Scorecard, 2014-15
- Flexibility and student services, based on whether the school offers the following services, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017-18
- Academic and career counseling
- Job placement services for graduates
- Mean annual earnings for students working 10 years after entry, College Scorecard, 2014-15
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- Grants, Michigan College Access Network, accessed June 19-20, 2019, http://www.micollegeaccess.org/grants
- Community College Skilled Trades Equipment Grant (CCSTEP), Grants Office, accessed June 19-20, 2019, https://www.higheredgrants.info/GrantDetails.aspx?gid=37917
- Michigan Community College NETwork, accessed June 19-20, 2019, http://michigancc.net/default.aspx
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- Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2017-18, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
- Most Recent Cohorts (All Data Elements): 2014-15, College Scorecard, U.S. Department of Education, https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/data/