Williston State College in Williston, North Dakota has begun losing some of its best students as they face the choice of either spending thousands of dollars and getting into near crippling debt for a college education or earn $100,000 a year working on the rigs, performing maintenance on oil wells or driving trucks, writes Blake Ellis at CNN Money.
Indeed, Williston is among the America’s biggest oil boomtown. But where the oil industry prospers, the education system is struggling to keep your hands on its best products. One engineering student dropped out of college last winter to take a job boiling the water used in hydraulic fracturing. In only two weeks, he earned $5,000, based on Lance Olson, a science instructor at the college.
But it\’s not only students who are tempted away. Williston State has already established a 25% employee turnover rate. Recently, two diesel technology instructors were among a number of teachers who quit to take higher-paying oilfield-related jobs.
Some students have been trying to convince their teachers to work for one of the oil companies — the last offer, Ellis writes, for one teacher ended up being to drive a truck 12 to 18 hours each day and get paid nearly $100,000 to begin. The lure of doubling his $56,000 annually salary is hard to resist.
Interestingly, though, as many students are dropping out to pursue big money on the oil rigs, there’s a new wave of scholars enrolling in Williston State. In fact, enrollment has hit a record 993 full-time and part-time students, a 6.5% increase from 2009.
With a lot of new workers flocking to Williston for jobs at the oilfields, these new students understand that getting a two-year degree in petroleum production, welding or diesel technology (all areas of study offered at Williston State) may help them arrive at the top of the oil industry pecking order and entitled to the best-paying jobs, writes Ellis.
But Williston’s campus isn’t big enough to handle the influx of students. The biggest classroom is made to fit 40 people, but now they are squeezing 50 students into them, said Jim Stout, an English professor at Williston State College in North Dakota.. Courses are even taking place in closets, he explained.
“At some point [students] decide, ‘Well, college will be here … however the oil boom won’t,’” says Stout.
But despite the challenges, Stout said his “call is to teach,” and ?as hard as Stout tries to stick it out in North Dakota and change students’ lives together with his teaching, in the face of external pressures, he\’s determined to not give up college.