Nine MnSCU colleges to launch innovative energy technician degree this fall

Posted: July 29, 2009

Contact: Doug Anderson, doug.anderson@so.mnscu.edu, 651-201-1426

Nine colleges in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system will begin offering a ground-breaking, two-year degree program this fall that prepares students to work either in the renewable energy or traditional energy industries.

Development of the new associate degree program – believed to be the first of its kind in the country – is funded mostly with a three-year, $1 million High Growth Job Training Initiative grant from the U. S. Department of Labor.

Besides the energy technical specialist degree, students will be able to earn a 16-credit certificate in one of four specialties – ethanol production, biodiesel production, wind turbine maintenance, and solar energy assessment. The certificate programs, which can be completed in as little as one semester, will be available online.

“This innovative approach enables our colleges and universities to meet a critical need of Minnesota’s traditional and emerging energy industries,” said Chancellor James H. McCormick. “Traditional energy employers have an aging workforce while renewable energy producers are struggling to find workers with appropriate technical skills. These new opportunities for students will advance one of our strategic directions, which is to enhance the state’s economic competitiveness.”

The colleges offering the new degree are Alexandria Technical College, Century College, Minnesota West Community and Technical College, South Central College, St. Cloud Technical College and four colleges of the Northeast Higher Education District – Hibbing Community College, Itasca Community College, Mesabi Range Community and Technical College and Vermilion College. These nine colleges and the Northeast Higher Education District’s Rainy River Community College make up the Minnesota Training Partnership for a Sustainable Energy Economy. Partnering state-run WorkForce Centers will help recruit students and place graduates in jobs.

Gail O’Kane, the system’s director for education-industry partnerships, said, “Offering a two-year degree in energy technology, along with certificates in specialized fields, also recognizes that a great deal of uncertainty remains about which energy sources will prevail over time – wind, hydrogen, biomass or some as-yet-unknown technology. But with a core set of skills, students will be well-positioned to complete additional training quickly as new energy technologies emerge.”

Students who earn the associate degree will be prepared for work in traditional energy industries, such as in electric generation plants, or they can specialize in a renewable energy field. The core curriculum approach was championed by the industry-led Minnesota Energy Consortium, which helped fund a study that identified the necessary core skills.

In addition to new curricula, the federal grant supports a semi-annual energy job vacancy report, two interactive learning modules for use in secondary schools and the Energy Careers Web site, MnEnergyCareers.org, which will have information for students, job seekers and teachers.

The project is being coordinated by the system office, which also is providing $237,500. In addition, the colleges have received more than $700,000 from the Renewable Energy Marketplace, which administers a $5 million Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development grant in southwest Minnesota from the U.S. Department of Labor.