Boom in Oil Industry Paves Way for New Petroleum Engineers

Students straight out of college can expect $100,000+ Annual Salaries

A boom in the oil patch has led to a similar resurgence in university petroleum engineering programs.

After surviving years of slumping enrollment, these programs are now growing again as a booming industry means graduates are virtually guaranteed employment at salaries upward of $100,000. Programs are hiring faculty to meet the demand and Texas Tech University’s Petroleum Engineering Department is even preparing to launch a new fundraising campaign to address the global and national workforce issues surrounding the oil and gas industry.

Nearly 3,700 undergraduate students nationwide enrolled in petroleum engineering programs for the 2007-08 academic year, said Lloyd Heinze, distinguished member of the Society of Petroleum Engineers and chairman of the Department of Petroleum Engineering at Texas Tech University. This is the largest enrollment since 1986.

At Texas Tech, undergraduate enrollment leaped from as few as 60 students in the 1991 academic year to 406 today. Most new hires can expect beginning annual salaries upwards of $100,000, Heinze said.

"By next year, we probably will go above the 1983 record of 531 if the trend stays the same," Heinze said.

The mid-1980s saw a peak in petroleum engineering college enrollments, Heinze said. "There were about 33 programs in U.S. that offered an option or degree in petroleum engineering (PE) in 1983, with a peak of more than 11,000 students. Petroleum engineering programs skidded to fewer than 1,800 students nationwide by 1991. Numbers of PE faculty nationally plummeted from about 230 full-time teaching staff to a low of about 110."

Now, Heinze said, there are 146 across the country in only 16 accredited programs in petroleum engineering.

From a corporate standpoint, having a lump in the baby boomer demographics has caused companies to have a large amount of graying. "You have graying employees who are in their late 40s to early 60s who have a tremendous amount of experience that is going out the door when they retire if companies haven’t been replacing them," said Heinze. "If you’re a graduate in the last 3-10 or so years, you will have tremendous opportunities much earlier in your career."

Demand has become so high, in fact, that Texas Tech’s department added a doctoral program in 2001 to advance the program and boost research.

"Since oil prices have been reasonably consistent, Texas Tech has had almost 100 percent placement of its petroleum engineering students by graduation over that 16-year timeframe," said Heinze, who has been at Texas Tech since 1991. "We’ve had very good luck with our students. Our 2007 grads average starting salary was a little over $100,000. As far as I know it’s the highest starting salary for graduates on our campus. Our students have had the joy of having the largest starting salary for the last five years of any students on campus."

Add to this the lure of exotic job locations and the fact that countries around the world are clamoring for more oil than ever, and Heinze believes the upswing will continue. He hopes this will happen at a slow, sustainable rate rather than in a bubble like the one that emerged in 1984.

As another indicator of the resurgence in the industry-wide demand for trained engineers, Texas Tech’s Petroleum Engineering Department is hosting a reception on Nov. 1 in Houston to address the oil and gas industry’s manpower and workforce demands. Keynote speaker Michael Williams, chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission, will present an overview of national and global workforce issues surrounding the oil and gas industry and manpower availability studies tying in the future demand for qualified petroleum engineers.

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CONTACT: Lloyd Heinze, department chair, Petroleum Engineering, Texas Tech University, (806) 742-3573, or lloyd.heinze@ttu.edu.