Technical schools in Minnesota can help workers prepare for in-demand jobs in key industries such as clean and renewable energy, health care services and advanced manufacturing. Major employers such as health insurer UnitedHealth Group and manufacturer 3M need qualified workers for a variety of jobs, and those positions may not require a four-year degree either.
In fact, some of the state's fastest growing occupations need a certificate or associate degree but not a bachelor's degree. Wind turbine service technicians, MRI technologists and CNC machine tool programmers are a few examples of vocational jobs that should see strong career growth in the coming years. However, top jobs may vary by region. For instance, the trade, transportation and utilities industry hires the most people in the Twin Cities region while education and health services see the most non-farm employment in the Northeast.
Although employment opportunities can differ depending on where you live, chances are vocational schools in Minnesota will have a program that fits your interests. These colleges can typically have you out of school and into the workplace in two years or less, making them a good choice for those who don't want to wait to start earning an income.
Why is Minnesota Good For Vocational Schools?
There are both traditional and online trade schools in Minnesota, and now is a good time to consider enrolling. The National Skills Coalition found 50 percent of Minnesota jobs required middle skills in 2015, but only 45 percent of the state's workforce had this level of training. Middle skills refers to education and training past high school but not to the level of a bachelor's degree.
What's more, many of these middle skills jobs pay well. Advance CTE, an association of career-technical education leaders, says 43 percent of the state's good jobs are held by people who don't have a bachelor's degree. The group defines a good job as one with a median income of $55,000 and that pays workers younger than 45 at least $35,000 per year.
Keep reading to learn more about the best trade schools in Minnesota, what financial aid programs are available and where to find further information regarding vocational training in the state.
Highest-Paying and Fastest-Growing Careers
Top Vocational Schools in Minnesota
The best vocational schools in Minnesota share some common traits. They tend to charge an affordable tuition rate, offer flexible class scheduling options and support their students with services such as tutoring and career advising. Using a methodology that considered these factors, among others, we analyzed data from the National Center for Education Statistics and the U.S. Department of Labor to find the following institutions which we think represent the state's top career schools.
Minnesota West Community and Technical College checks off all the boxes you'd expect for a top institution. It offers small class sizes, education programs in more than 60 disciplines and an affordable tuition rate. The college has received multiple honors and has been recognized as one of the top 150 community colleges in the nation by the nonprofit Aspen Institute.
What vocational programs Minnesota West offers: Students can earn an associate degree, diploma or certificate at Minnesota West. Programs cover a variety of fields and include diverse options such as an automotive technician diploma, an associate degree in nursing and a cosmetology nail technician certificate. Classes are held on five campuses and two education centers. Some programs and courses are also offered online.
Students at Northwest Technical College get access to flexible learning options. They may easily transfer between programs, study at their own pace and stack credentials so they can quickly get workplace skills before continuing their education. Some certificates at Northwest Technical College can be completed in as little as one semester, and online courses and programs are available through a partnership with Distance Minnesota.
What vocational programs NTC offers: The programs at NTC prepare students for jobs in six career paths: automotive service and performance, building systems, business, child care, health care and manufacturing technology. In total, they cover 19 fields of study. Specific program examples include a certificate in medical coding, an associate degree in accounting and a diploma in residential plumbing/HVAC.
With four campuses and online classes, Minnesota State Community and Technical College is the largest two-year college in Greater Minnesota. It awards more than $300,000 in scholarships each year, and 80 percent of its students receive financial aid. To ensure more personalized instruction, the school maintains a 17:1 student-faculty ratio. Its graduates have a 92% job placement rate.
What vocational programs M State offers:M State offers students dozens of degree, diploma and certificate choices. Some programs are only offered on-campus since they have hands-on requirements. For instance, those enrolled in the electrical lineworker technology program study on the Wadena campus where they practice climbing poles and operating bucket trucks. Other options, such as the associate degree in digital marketing, can be earned entirely online.
Riverland Community College says it has the vision, mission and heart to help students succeed. The college was founded in 1940 and is now one of the online vocational schools in Minnesota, offering classes on three campuses as well as via the internet. Approximately 4,500 students are enrolled, and more than $565,000 in scholarships were awarded in 2016.
What vocational programs Riverland offers: With more than 100 programs available, Riverland has degrees, diplomas and certificates in 19 different career clusters. These include popular fields of study, like business and health care, along with more niche offerings in international education and farm business management. Riverland also has more than two dozen online programs such as a social media marketing certificate and a web developer associate degree.
Affordability and alumni success are two reasons to consider Dakota County Technical College. The school says its credits cost only about a third of that charged by private two-year schools. Plus, its graduates are valued by their employers, with 97 percent of companies saying they would hire Dakota County Technical College alumni again. If that's not enough, the college also has day, evening, weekend and online classes to fit every schedule.
What vocational programs DCTC offers: Overall, there are more 50 academic programs at DCTC offered across nine departments. These include STEM careers, administrative support and transportation. The school's online degrees are largely business focused and include a supervisory leadership certificate and an associate degree in business administration. Some programs at DCTC can be completed in as few as six weeks.
Alexandria Technical & Community College makes the list of best trade schools in Minnesota thanks to its quality academics and strong record of student success. The military-friendly college has the number one graduation rate among Minnesota State institutions. What's more, it has an impressive 98 percent job placement rate for graduates.
What vocational programs ATCC offers: The technical programs at ATCC include associate degrees, diplomas and certificates. They cover seven areas of interest and can be earned in two years, one year or one semester, depending on the field. The college has a law enforcement program designed to help graduates pass the Minnesota Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Board exam. ATCC also has online programs in fields such medical coding and paralegal studies.
More than 5,500 students take classes on Ridgewater College's two campuses or through one of the school's online programs. The school prides itself on offering flexible and affordable education options. It has a 21:1 student-faculty ratio, and 39 percent of its graduates have no Ridgewater debt. Plus, the college has a 95 percent job placement rate for graduates.
What vocational programs Ridgewater offers: Students can select from more than 100 degrees and certificates at Ridgewater,, and the college says some of its options are unique programs not found at many other institutions. For instance, its nondestructive testing technology program is considered one of the best in the nation. While Ridgewater emphasizes hands-on learning, it also offers online degrees and certificates in fields such as business, education and medical coding.
Scholarships, flexible learning options and small class sizes help make St. Cloud Technical & Community College one of the best vocational schools in Minnesota. With more than 90 programs available, the college says it can have students ready for high-paying careers in two years or less. St. Cloud Technical & Community College was founded in 1948 and has a 98 percent job placement rate.
What vocational programs SCTCC offers: Some of the top programs by enrollment at SCTCC are in business management and health sciences. However, vocational programs are also offered in construction technology, manufacturing technology and transportation technology. Approximately 20 percent of students at SCTCC take classes online, and online programs include an associate degree in health information technology and a finance diploma.
Located in northeastern Minnesota, Mesabi Range College operates on core values such as diversity, opportunity and excellence. The school enrolls 1,700 students, making it a good choice for those who don't want to get lost in a crowd. The Mesabi Range Foundation awards approximately $100,000 in scholarships each year, and 80% of dependent students receive financial aid that averages out to $3,600.
What vocational programs Mesabi Range offers: There are seven major areas of study offered at Mesabi Range's two locations. Business and management and human services programs are found primarily on the Virginia campus while the Eveleth campus houses most of the health and manufacturing and repair degrees and diplomas. Some courses may be available online while other programs teach skilled trades that must be taught in person.
Hennepin Technical College has racked up some notable achievements and accolades. It was named a White House Healthy Campus in 2017, and its faculty won the Minnesota State Board of Trustees Educator of the Year Award two years in a row in 2017-2018. It is significantly cheaper than private vocational schools, and its graduates have a 99 percent placement rate in their field of study.
What vocational programs HTC offers: The vocational programs at HTC cover ten different fields of study. Within those fields are specialty programs such as cabinetmaking and wood product design as well as more general options such as an associate degree in health science broad field. Some HTC degrees, such as its business program, are available online as well as on campus.
Financial Aid for Vocational Students in Minnesota
Public technical and community colleges are the cheapest way to get a higher education in Minnesota. Most of these schools charge between $5,000-$6,000 per year in tuition and fees, according to the Minnesota Office of Higher Education. Compare that to the $15,142 charged annually by the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities or the $57,111 it costs to attend the private Carleton College.
Financial aid in Minnesota can help lower costs for vocational students as well. In Fiscal Year 2018, the state spent nearly $242 million on student financial assistance. That money is distributed through Minnesota scholarships and grants and may be awarded to students based on academic merit or financial need.
If you are wondering how to apply for financial aid in Minnesota, the first step is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Also known as the FAFSA, this form is used to determine eligibility for most government and school programs. We have more about the FAFSA in our financial aid guide.
Students who submit the FAFSA might receive one of the following:
- Minnesota State Grant: Intended for students from low to moderate-income families, this grant provides up to $7,463 per year for qualified students enrolled in eligible programs at public two-year colleges.
- Postsecondary Child Care Grant: Low income students who aren't receiving Minnesota Family Investment Program assistance may be eligible for up to $5,200 to pay for child care so they can attend classes.
- Minnesota Indian Scholarship: Minnesota residents who are at least one-quarter American Indian and have demonstrated financial need can receive a grant of up to $4,000 per year for undergraduate studies.
Initiatives for Vocational Students in Minnesota
Career schools in Minnesota and their students benefit from the following state initiatives:
Funding for vocational students in Minnesota
- The Minnesota Office of Higher Education received $245 million from the state general fund in Fiscal Year 2017 and almost all that money went to institution support and student grants.
- To support students seeking Minnesota CTE certification at the high school and college levels, the federal government is giving the state $18.7 million for Fiscal Year 2019.
Minnesota policies that benefit vocational students
- The PIPELINE Program provides grants and other support to employers who offer dual-training programs that combine instruction with on-the-job training.
- Employers can also receive grants through the Minnesota Apprenticeship Initiative, which seeks to train 1,000 new apprentices in key industries.
School-specific program initiatives in Minnesota
Resources for Vocational Students and Vocational Job Seekers
- For information on school accreditation, visit the Higher Learning Commission.
- The Minnesota Office of Higher Education offers students information on preparing, choosing and paying for college.
- Job seekers can learn about career opportunities and search job listings on the state's CareerForce website
Browse Cities in Minnesota
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: Mixed Transfer/Vocational & Technical
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
We ranked the resulting 711 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
- No. 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
- 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/
- Minnesota, Advance CTE, Accessed October 2019, https://careertech.org/Minnesota
- Why Minnesota Regional Fact Sheets, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, Accessed October 2019, https://mn.gov/deed/data/research/why-mn-sheets/
- Occupations in Demand, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, Accessed October 2019, https://apps.deed.state.mn.us/lmi/oid/Results_9Columns.aspx?s=T_pchg
- Industries, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, Accessed October 2019, https://mn.gov/deed/business/locating-minnesota/industries-sectors/
- Explore Minnesota's Top Companies, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, Accessed October 2019, https://mn.gov/deed/ed/location-expansion/minnesota-companies/
- Minnesota's Forgotten Middle, National Skills Coalition, Accessed October 2019, https://m.nationalskillscoalition.org/resources/publications/2017-middle-skills-fact-sheets/file/Minnesota-MiddleSkills.pdf
- College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics, Accessed October 2019, https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator
- Why Minnesota West? Minnesota West Community and Technical College, Accessed October 2019, https://www.mnwest.edu/about
- About NTC, Northwest Technical College, Accessed October 2019, https://www.ntcmn.edu/about/
- M State Fast Facts, Minnesota State Community and Technical College, Accessed October 2019, https://www.minnesota.edu/associated_downloads/application_pdf/MSFastFacts2019NB0519.indd.pdf
- About Riverland, Riverland Community College, Accessed October 2019, https://www.riverland.edu/about-riverland/
- Dakota County Technical College, Accessed October 2019, https://www.dctc.edu/
- Alexandria Technical & Community College, Accessed October 2019, https://www.alextech.edu/
- About Ridgewater, Ridgewater College, Accessed October 2019, https://www.ridgewater.edu/about/
- Fast Facts, St. Cloud Technical & Community College, Accessed October 2019, https://www.sctcc.edu/fast-facts
- Mesabi Range at a Glance, Mesabi Range College, Accessed October 2019, https://www.mesabirange.edu/about/mr-glance
- At a Glance, Hennepin Technical College, Accessed October 2019, https://www.hennepintech.edu/about-htc/at-a-glance.html
- Minnesota Tuition & Fees, Minnesota Office of Higher Education, Accessed October 2019, http://www.ohe.state.mn.us/sPages/TuitionChart.cfm?SchState=MN&pageID=651
- Financial Aid You Don't Repay, Minnesota Office of Higher Education, Accessed October 2019, https://www.ohe.state.mn.us/mPg.cfm?pageID=1296
- High Education Appropriations, Minnesota Office of Higher Education, Accessed October 2019, https://mn.gov/mmb-stat/documents/budget/2020-21-biennial-budget-books/governors-recommendations-february/higher-education-office.pdf