Staples is 30 miles west of Brainerd in Minnesota Lake Country, hence the name Central Lakes College, with campuses in both cities.

I spent an exceptionally profitable couple of hours at Staples’ two campuses last week when I was in town to speak about American Experiment’s new multi-year project “Great Jobs Without a Four-Year Degree” at a dinner meeting sponsored by a group called “Crossroads Conservatives” at a restaurant and bar called “Twisted Sisters” (really).  In truth, the room didn’t seem terribly twisted at all and the crowd of approximately 35-40 men and women, plus a few high school students, wasn’t exclusively conservative, which was welcomed news on both scores.

Graduation had been a few days earlier at the community and technical college so there weren’t many students around.  But along with “Crossroads” hosts Stan Carlson and Bruce Nelson (the latter of whom used to teach at there), I very much enjoyed tours of the two Staples campuses by faculty and staff who clearly were abundantly proud of their institution.  I particularly appreciated learning about the school’s program in Heavy Equipment Operations and Maintenance, which describes itself as “unique, one of a kind” program in Minnesota State (the still-relatively new name for what was formerly known as MnSCU).

Suffice it to say, this four-semester diploma program is exactly the kind that my colleagues Kathy Kersten and John Hinderaker and I refer to when we talk about terrific alternative ways in which young men and women, who are so inclined, can achieve solid middle-class careers without a baccalaureate degree.   This often is especially the case for people who relish working with their hands.

This is how CLC describes the program:

“This in the seat, hands-on training program will prepare you for an industry that continually shapes and changes the physical environment.

“You will be able to become part of the crew that builds a roadway, lays pipe for the city, or demolishes a building to make way for a new sports facility, office building, or shopping center.

“Attend the Heavy Equipment Operation and Maintenance Program at CLC and train under knowledgeable faculty to operate dozers, elevators, motor graders, loaders, skid steer, backhoes and haul trucks.  This in-depth knowledge will make you a valuable asset in the construction industry.

“This unique four-semester program accepts new students in August and December.  Employment opportunities exist nationwide in various areas of the construction industry, including: Highway construction, underground utilities, pipelines and oil fields, mining, flood control, demolition . . . logging, and with state and local governments.”

My thanks to instructor John Maleski – whose “passion for the construction trade first ignited as a child, watching his father as a heavy equipment operator” – for showing me around.  The “heavy” equipment he pointed out and described was both immense and more than impressive, especially for a mid-sized, SUV-guy like myself.

A very good trip, especially since it rained less Up North than Down South.

Mitch Pearlstein is Founder of Center of the American Experiment.

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