looking forward

Report: College enrollment in petroleum programs — including in Texas — sees historic drop

The future of the oil and gas workforce isn't looking too bright when it comes to recruiting, the Wall Street Journal reports. Photo via Getty Images

Student enrollment in petroleum engineering programs at universities — including Texas schools — has dropped significantly, according to a recent report.

This prospective energy workforce is concerned about job security as the industry moves forward in the energy transition, reports the Wall Street Journal. The number of students enrolled in petroleum engineering programs has decreased to its lowest point in a decade, the WSJ found, breaking the typical cycle, which "ebbed and flowed" alongside the price of oil.

This decline is estimated as a 75 percent drop in enrollment since 2014, Lloyd Heinze, a Texas Tech University professor, tells the WSJ. The article specifies that the University of Texas at Austin has seen a 42 percent decline since its peak enrollment in 2015, and Texas A&M University has dropped 63.3 percent. Both schools' petroleum engineering programs are ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, by U.S. News and World Report. Texas Tech, which ties with the University of Houston at No. 9 on the U.S. News report, has seen a 88.1 percent decline since its peak in 2015. UH data wasn't included in the article.

The article highlights declines at Colorado School of Mines (87.7 percent), Louisiana State University (89 percent), and University of Oklahoma (90 percent) since their peak enrollment in 2015.

A decline in future workforce for the energy industry would directly affect Houston's economy. According to the 2023 Houston Facts report from the Greater Houston Partnership, Houston held 23.8 percent of the nation’s jobs in oil and gas extraction (33,400 of 140,200) 17.0 percent of jobs in oil field services (33,600 of 198,100), and 9.6 percent of jobs in manufacturing of agricultural, construction and mining equipment (20,400 of 212,000), based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Barbara Burger tells the WSJ that new climatetech-focused startups have emerged and become more attractive to both college graduates and current oil and gas workforce. “There’s competition in a way that probably wasn’t there 15 years ago,” she shares.

The lack of college student pipeline paired with the diminishing workforce from emerging companies poses a challenge to incubant energy corporations, many of which have invested in programs at schools to better attract college graduates. The WSJ article points to BP's $4 million fellowship program with U.S. universities announced in February.

Just this week, Baker Hughes granted $100,000 to the University of Houston's Energy Transition Institute, which was founded last year with backing from Shell. In a recent interview with EnergyCapital, Joseph Powell, founding director of UH Energy Transition Institute, explains how the institute was founded to better engage with college students and bring them into the transitioning industry.

"It takes a lot of energy to process chemicals, plastics, and materials in a circular manner," he says. "Developing that workforce of the future means we need the students who want to engage in these efforts and making sure that those opportunities are available across the board to people of all different economic backgrounds in terms of participating in what is going to be just a tremendous growth engine for the future in terms of jobs and opportunities."

Clean energy jobs are already in Texas, and are ripe for the taking, according to a recent SmartAsset report that found that 2.23 percent of workers in the Houston area hold down jobs classified as “green.” While oil and gas positions are still paying top dollar, these clean energy jobs reportedly pay an average of 21 percent more than other jobs.

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A View From HETI

Grace Rodriguez (left) and Juliana Garaizar have partnered up — along with their teams — to collaborate on the Equitable Energy Transition Alliance and Lab. Photos courtesy

A group of Houston's innovation and energy leaders teamed up to establish an initiative supporting equitability in the energy transition.

Impact Hub Houston, a nonprofit incubator and ecosystem builder, partnered with Energy Tech Nexus to establish the Equitable Energy Transition Alliance and Lab to accelerate startup pilots for underserved communities. The initiative announced that it's won the 2024 U.S. Small Business Administration Growth Accelerator Fund Competition, or GAFC, Stage One award.

"We are incredibly honored to be recognized by the SBA alongside our esteemed partners at Energy Tech Nexus," Grace Rodriguez, co-founder and executive director of Impact Hub Houston, says in a news release. "This award validates our shared commitment to building a robust innovation ecosystem in Houston, especially for solutions that advance the Sustainable Development Goals at the critical intersections of industry, innovation, sustainability, and reducing inequality."

The GAFC award, which honors and supports small business research and development, provides $50,000 prize to its winners. The Houston collaboration aligns with the program's theme area of Sustainability and Biotechnology.

“This award offers us a great opportunity to amplify the innovations of Houston’s clean energy and decarbonization pioneers,” adds Juliana Garaizar, founding partner of the Energy Tech Nexus. “By combining Impact Hub Houston’s entrepreneurial resources with Energy Tech Nexus’ deep industry expertise, we can create a truly transformative force for positive change.”

Per the release, Impact Hub Houston and Energy Tech Nexus will use the funding to recruit new partners, strengthen existing alliances, and host impactful events and programs to help sustainable startups access pilots, contracts, and capital to grow.

"SBA’s Growth Accelerator Fund Competition Stage One winners join the SBA’s incredible network of entrepreneurial support organizations contributing to America’s innovative startup ecosystem, ensuring the next generation of science and technology-based innovations scale into thriving businesses," says U.S. SBA Administrator Isabel Casillas Guzman.


This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

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