Schools for Aspiring Operating Engineers: How to Choose

Dec 10, 2019

Becoming an operating engineer requires an apprenticeship several years in length, though there are some degree programs available in construction engineering to prepare an individual for the career. Students might consider the pay rate for on-the-job training, additional certifications and geographic locations when selecting a program or apprenticeship.

Some colleges offer applied industrial technology educational programs in conjunction with an apprenticeship program in the construction industry, managing heavy machinery, such as bulldozers or earth graders, which is what operating engineers do. Prospective operating engineers should check union eligibility requirements to ensure they follow state guidelines when selecting a program.

10 Schools with Operating Engineers Programs

Operating engineer programs are offered by these colleges. Tuition costs often do not apply to apprenticeship programs, which offer paid on-the-job training along with some coursework.

College/University Location Institution Type Degrees Offered Tuition* (2018-2019)
Community College of Allegheny County Pittsburgh, PA 2-year, Public Apprenticeship Certificate $4,315 (In-district); $7,861 (In-state); $11,251 (Out-of-state)
Allan Hancock College Santa Maria, CA 2-year, Public Apprenticeship $1,352 (In-state); $6,784 (Out-state)
Fox Valley Technical College Appleton, WI 2-year, Public Apprenticeship $4,565 (In-state); $6,578 (Out-state)
Hazard Community and Technical College Hazard, KY 2-year, Public Certificate, Diploma $4,248 (In-state); $14,400 (Out-of-state)
Cuyahoga Community College Cleveland, OH 2-year, Public Certificate, Associate's $3,436 (In-district); $4,322 (In-state); $8,136 (Out-of-state)
Oakland Community College Bloomfield Hills, MI 2-year, Public Associate's $2,408 (In-district); $4,475 (In-state); $4,475 (Out-of-state)
Columbus State Community College Columbus, OH 2-year, Public Associate's $4,284 (In-state); $8,906 (Out-of-state)
Houston Community College Houston, TX 2-year, Public Apprenticeship $1,632 (In-district); $3,360 (In-state); $3,756 (Out-of-state)
Ivy Tech Community College Indianapolis, IN 2-year, Public Apprenticeship $4,368 (In-state); $8,402 (Out-of-state)
Rio Hondo College Whittier, CA 2-year, Public Certificate, Associate's $1,360 (In-state); $6,624 (Out-of-state)

Source: *National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)

School Selection Criteria

This is a list of important considerations for aspiring operating engineering students.

  • Students might check with U.S. Department of Labor's Education and Training Association (ETA) for approved apprenticeships in their area.
  • Due to the variety of equipment and job titles, students can specialize in areas such as repair or inspection.
  • Students should check to see if a program incorporates CDL-certification or if passing the exam in a prerequisite for admittance.
  • Students should review the pay rate for apprentices, which is typically a percentage of the rate journeyman operating engineers make.


Most apprenticeships offered through schools and organizations are affiliated with local trade unions. These programs typically last 3-4 years. Within that period, apprentices are required to complete a minimum number of hours of on-the-job training. Classroom instruction is provided for work site safety and equipment maintenance education.

Associate Degrees in Applied Industrial Technology

Experienced operating engineers who desire advancement might consider earning an associate's degree in applied industrial technology. Students without industry experience should seek programs that offer practical training on-campus or through internships or apprenticeships. Some programs devote whole courses to specific pieces of heavy equipment, such as mobile cranes or bulldozers. In addition to industrial technology curricula, programs include general education, such as basic communications and math courses.

A number of schools offer programs for aspiring operating engineers that range from an apprenticeship to studies for a certificate or associate's degree. The length of the programs varies, and it is important to ensure that any program is recognized by the ETA.

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