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College for Work

Many programs at Twin Cities Community and Technical colleges get Minnesotans into jobs surprisingly quick with surprisingly livable wages.

college student on a couch

Ron Sellnau will never forget that graduate of the truck-driving program at Southeast Technical College in Winona and Red Wing. “After nine months in North Dakota, he had already made $80,000,” says Sellnau, who is vice president of academic affairs at the college. “He told me, ‘Do I work hard? You bet I work hard. But I will not have any debt hanging over my head, and my house is almost paid for.’”

The time it took for that student to complete that truck-driving program? Eight weeks.

As college grows more expensive every year, and the job market for liberal arts grads remains tight, national attention has shifted to technical and community colleges tailor-made for a state’s employment needs. Nationally, growth in industries that hire grads from such programs has outpaced growth in other industries. And among the nation’s fastest-growing occupations, most require only an associate degree or less.

Gov. Mark Dayton gets it. In October he helped open the renovated nursing and allied health care facilities at Minneapolis Community and Technical College and helped launch a three-year path to a nursing career there. His (paraphrased) words: Preparation for jobs is economic development. In line with the governor, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system has begun shifting its strategy toward a whole higher education system meant to produce the workforce that Minnesota needs.

“There is no question there is a trend,” says Mike Christenson, associate vice president for workforce development at MCTC. “Students are approaching their career pathways with more flexibility and creativity than ever.”

How They Work

By law, community and technical colleges are required to respond to workforce needs in the area they serve and to partner with local and state industries to do so.

At MCTC, for instance, “We have 40 advisory committees,” says Christenson. “By statute, all of our career and technical programs require an advisory committee led by the private sector or employers.”

The goal, for both students and state, is to prepare people for jobs that exist— and fast. “Technical colleges fast-track students to careers,” says LeAnn Brown, interim dean of student affairs at Anoka Technical College. “Each class, each skill we teach, is directly applicable to what our graduates will need to know the first day they start their jobs.” 

And contrary to popular belief, this is not at the sacrifice of “soft” skills like communication, critical thinking, and resilience. “We do a great job of preparing students for the skill portion [of their careers], but we also prepare them to be critical thinkers and problem solvers,” says Sellnau. “Those foundational elements are so essential.” A telling example: Representatives from the FBI routinely recruit from Southeast Tech. They’re looking for students with the technical skills and the communication skills and work ethic they need. Southeast Tech is one of the few technical schools in the United States they visit.

The approach works across industries, saving everyone time and money, particularly college students and the families who financially support them. “Many of our students are lucky enough to land a job with companies who invest in their employees’ educations,” says Brown. That can mean tuition assistance or loan forgiveness to get the degree, or it might mean tuition assistance for further education later, once a student is an employee.

Not to mention the savings from the two to three years of not paying tuition elsewhere for a degree that might not result in a living wage.

Where the Demand Is Now

In some industries—such as IT and nursing and health care fields—the demand is no surprise to Minnesotans. “All of our nurses have job offers,” says Christenson. Network analysts with a two-year associate of science degree can expect a 10 percent demand increase in the state in the next six years. “These jobs pay around $30 an hour,” says Brown. That’s $62,000 a year.

But there are many surprises. The field of CNC (computer numerical control) operations—the merging of machinist skills with computer-aided design, trigonometry, and computer programming—is exploding. “A local employer told me that if he could find CNC operators across the country, he would hire all of them right now,” Sellnau says. The pay ranges from $31,000 to start (after graduating from the two-year program) to $60,000.

Welding is another new surprise. “We can’t put out enough welders to satisfy the local need,” Sellnau says. Christenson agrees. “A certificate in welding outperforms a master’s in social work in wage terms. We have a group of 20 poets and artists who are studying welding. It will allow them to make $20 an hour ($41,600 a year) or more working on the new Vikings stadium,” he says.

And, says Sellnau, “Our demand has come back in carpentry. Our students have multiple job opportunities.”

It’s these job opportunities that make the payoff for the right technical or community college degree so huge. Parents looking to help kids make decisions, and probably help their kids pay for it too, should ask themselves if their student might make a good candidate for a technical or skills-based degree. Says Sellnau, “Really take a good hard look at the skills and talents your young people actually have—not what they, or you, think they have—in terms of math and communications.

“If students bring those to us, we will provide them with the skills and critical thinking they need in a one- or two-year program, at a lower cost than if they were to go to a four-year institution. And they can earn a very good living.”

Hot Minnesota Jobs

Half of Minnesota’s top 25 high-wage, in-demand occupations require less than a four-year degree—sometimes much less. Here are some of our state’s most-needed jobs for which you don’t need a bachelor’s degree, where to train, and the median Minnesota wages.

Heavy tractor-trailer truck driver Less than one year at Southeast Tech $40,500
Licensed practical nurse Two years at Anoka Tech, Dakota County Tech, Hennepin Tech, Inver Hills Community College, MCTC, Saint Paul College, Southeast Tech $41,000
Carpenter Less than two years at Hennepin Tech, Southeast Tech, Saint Paul College $45,400
Electrician Less than two years at Anoka Tech, Dakota County Tech, Dunwoody, MCTC, Saint Paul College $63,300
Plumber One year at Saint Paul College (then an apprenticeship) $62,500
Operating engineer and other construction equipment operators Two years or less at Dakota County Tech, Hennepin Tech, Southeast Tech $48,500
Welder, cutter, solderer, and brazer Three years or less at Anoka Tech, Dakota County Tech, Dunwoody, Hennepin Tech, MCTC, Saint Paul College, Southeast Tech $38,700
Medical secretary Two years at Anoka Tech, Century Community and Tech, Dakota County Tech, Hennepin Tech, MCTC, Saint Paul College, Southeast Tech $38,500
Industrial machinery mechanic Two years or less at Dunwoody, Hennepin Tech, Saint Paul College, Southeast Tech $49,000
Dental assistant About 18 months at Century College, Dakota County Tech, Hennepin Tech, MCTC $43,000
Radiologic technologist Three years or less at Century College, Dunwoody, Southeast Tech $61,000

Metro-Area Colleges -0414-CollegeWork_S01.jpg

With Technical Programs
Only some of the many options

Public Community and Technical Colleges

A) Anoka-Ramsey Community College
11200 Mississippi Blvd. NW, Coon Rapids,

B) Anoka Technical College
1355 Hwy. 10 W., Anoka,

C) Century College
3300 Century Ave. N., White Bear Lake,

D) Dakota County Technical College
1300 E. 145th St., Rosemount,

E) Hennepin Technical College
9000 Brooklyn Blvd., Brooklyn Park;
13100 College View Dr., Eden Prairie,

F) Inver Hills Community College
2500 E. 80th St., Inver Grove Heights,

G) Minneapolis Community & Technical College
1501 Hennepin Ave., Mpls.,

H) North Hennepin Community College
7411 85th Ave. N., Brooklyn Park,

I) Normandale Community College
9700 France Ave. S., Bloomington,

J) Saint Paul College
235 Marshall Ave., St. Paul,

Southeast Technical College
Red Wing, Winona,

Private, For-Profit Community and Technical Colleges

K) DeVry University
7700 France Ave. S., Ste. 575, Edina,

L) Dunwoody College of Technology
818 Dunwoody Blvd., Mpls.,

Globe University—Minnesota School of Business
Multiple locations,

Rasmussen College
Multiple locations,