The Michigan Career and Technical Institute is on Pine Lake in southwestern Barry County. Courtesy MCTI
A comprehensive rehabilitation educational training center in southwest Michigan is turning 70 and still going strong.
The Michigan Career and Technical Institute was established in 1944 on Pine Lake in southwestern Barry County with the mission of providing vocational training for adults with disabilities. Although the institute has adapted to meet the changing needs of support services and industry skills, the school has remained committed to training and placing students in occupations.
Paul Mulka, director at MCTI, said the mission to prepare individuals with disabilities for employment has remained constant throughout its 70-year history.
“Some of the training has changed over the years, but one of the strengths of the school is we’ve been able to change with the times and keep current and meet the needs,” said Mulka. “And we’ve been able to change mainly because of the partnerships we have with business and industry, and that mission focus to make sure people have marketable job skills and acceptable work behaviors.”
The institute currently operates under the Department of Human Services within the state of Michigan, and is funded through Michigan Rehabilitation Services. As a state and federal program, 20 percent of funding is derived from the state general fund and is matched with 80 percent from the federal government.
“As a state agency, we have a lot of match agreements with a lot of local school districts and community mental health centers that help draw down the match,” said Mulka. “We have about a $120 million budget as an agency and about $10 million for MCTI.”
According to the Michigan Career and Technical Institute Annual Report in 2013, MCTI is a distinct entity from traditional community colleges or technical schools and is one of eight comprehensive rehabilitation training centers in the United States.
In its early stages, the property on Pine Lake was home to the W.K. Kellogg Camp for disadvantaged children in the 1930s, before being leased to the state in 1944 to provide physical and vocational rehabilitation services for veterans and other citizens. According to the Pine Lake Association, the vocational school became a part of Western Michigan University’s industrial arts program shortly thereafter, and then the institute was established as part of Michigan Rehabilitation Services.
“It has always kept that focus of keeping current with career and technical education,” said Mulka.
As the property and facilities transitioned over the years, the population MCTI served shifted, as well. The majority of students enrolled at the institute during its initial stages tended to have physical disabilities and they were looking for a career change after serving in the military, according to Mulka. Now there are a large number of students with hidden and learning disabilities, including cognitive and emotional disorders.
“The big one that everybody is seeing nowadays in the school system is people with autism spectrum disorder,” said Mulka. “It is probably one of the big emerging populations for everybody in Michigan rehab services.”
According to the annual report, 61.3 percent of students enrolled at MCTI for the 2012-2013 academic school year had cognitive impairments, while less than 1 percent had general physical debilitation impairments. Other reported disabilities included: psychosocial, communicative, hearing loss, and other mental impairments.
In the fall of 2012, 42 percent of enrolled students’ impairments were a result of specific learning disabilities, while 15 percent of students had ADHD and an additional 15 percent had autism.
“We have a lot of people with learning disabilities, but if they have some skills where they can demonstrate that they know how to use some of the advanced technology, that gives them a leg up,” said Mulka. “Computerized numerical control is one of those systems. The more they can use computers and advanced manufacturing techniques, the better.”
The institute currently offers 13 vocational training programs, including: automotive technology; cabinet making and millwork; certified nurse assistant; culinary arts; electronics and manufacturing; and graphic communications. After completing a five-week career assessment program, students are evaluated based on aptitude, interest and skill improvement to help create an individualized educational development plan.
“It helps them understand the world of work and how their interests, aptitudes, math and reading (align) — how they are connected to what their goals are,” said Mulka. “So then we help them understand those different careers, and if they can’t get closer to what the training requirements are in five weeks, they usually come to the conclusion that maybe they should try something else.”
MCTI serves roughly 1,000 individuals each year and graduates approximately 320 students per year. Mulka attributes the success of the students to the quality of programs and the relationships with area businesses and industries.
“Of the 320 students that we graduate, 80 percent of those people, we have long history of achieving good results,” said Mulka. “We have about 80 percent placement rate with most of those people retaining employment, as well as about 75 percent are working in the training program they were actually trained in.”
Due to its location in southwest Michigan, MCTI has had strong partnerships with the furniture industry, according to Mulka. The relationships with the businesses range from hiring MCTI graduates to donating equipment to help students stay up-to-date with current technology. Several companies that partner with MCTI include: Scarlett Inc., Grand Rapids; Nucraft Furniture, Comstock Park; Great Lakes Woods, Holland; Haworth Inc., Holland; Herman Miller, Inc., Zeeland; and Steelcase Inc., Grand Rapids.
As MCTI looks to its future, the institute is reaching out to students who are becoming disengaged with traditional academic education through its PERT program, or post-secondary education rehabilitation transition. The summer program began in 2013 and is a one-week assessment for high school students to show them the type of careers available in terms of their aptitudes.
“We are really trying to target transition programs in schools that have special education departments to help broaden our school to serve the kids that are in danger of dropping out of school because they don’t fit in,” said Mulka.“It’s not like magic. It’s really just understanding that people learn differently. And I think that is becoming clearer to everyone — that there are multiple intelligences.”