While middle colleges share core values, such as creating a smaller school environment for students who want an alternative to a large comprehensive high school, the look and feel of middle colleges varies depending on the location.
Some schools begin with high school freshmen. Others, like Community College High School in Las Vegas, reach out to struggling sophomores. Some take juniors and seniors. And one even starts with middle school students. Most of the schools are found in urban areas, and most are on two-year college campuses. But middle colleges like the one in Nashville, on the campus of Nashville State Technical College, have a suburban setting.
The location of a middle-college high school on a college campus also depends on the nature of the relationship between the high school and the college and the available space on campus. Some are full-fledged schools with their own budgets. Others are programs connected to traditional high schools in the school system and have less independence.
One middle college, International High School, one of three middle colleges on the campus of LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City, N.Y., has students from 52 countries who speak a total of 39 languages.
Middle-college principals and teachers say there is no exact formula for creating a middle college that can be transferred from one school to another. But they suggest that being a part of the Middle College High School Consortium, a membership organization based at LaGuardia Community College that supports middle colleges, provides a framework for dialogue and encourages the use of effective practices.
“We would have died without the consortium,” says Myra Silverman, the former principal of the middle-college high school at Contra Costa College in San Pablo, Calif. “The consortium shows you that you’re part of a national movement. People feel like they are supported by their brothers and sisters across the country.”
Every year, the consortium holds a winter and a summer national conference allowing educators to come together to learn from one another’s successes and mistakes. Students also have their own conference once a year. Along with the National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools, and Teaching at Columbia University’s Teachers College, the middle-college consortium implemented a “critical friends” review that provides a way of evaluating such schools to see how they can better meet their goals.
Cecilia Cunningham, the director of the middle- college consortium and the longtime principal at the nation’s first middle college at LaGuardia Community College, says that diversity is a hallmark of the middle-college model. “They really reflect the local area in which they are used,” she says.
A version of this article appeared in the March 14, 2001 edition of Education Week as Middle-College High Schools Vary In Size, Location, and Style