Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Petroleum Engineering Shows U.S. Students’ Hidden Prowess

• April 20, 2011 • 4:42 PM

American students’ behavior defies the prevailing stereotype when looking at how they flock to the hot field of petroleum engineering.

What Americans pay for gasoline gets lots of attention, but the price at the pump is only one oil industry indicator that has been rising lately. The starting salaries of bachelor’s degree-holding petroleum engineers are also at historic highs. This other price spike has gotten almost no coverage even though labor market experts believe it seriously undermines the prevailing narrative about America’s technical workforce.

That narrative asserts that the nation has a shortage of scientists and engineers caused by inadequate school systems that can’t produce enough excellent math, engineering and science students. Exhibit A for this argument is the generally low percentage of American students and the high percentage of foreign students in many of the nation’s engineering programs.

The evidence, as Miller-McCune magazine pointed out last year in a July cover story, indicates the opposite. The U.S. produces a large supply of able math and science students. What keeps their numbers low in many engineering programs is not a lack of ability but a lack of desirable career opportunities after they graduate. But opportunity is bubbling in the oil patch. Rising crude oil prices inspired both more exploration and more use of new and expensive extraction technologies, for example from tar sands. This coincides with retirement of the large generation of petroleum engineers who built the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline and expanded exploration in the 1970s. Since 2002, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has gone from forecasting declining demand for petroleum engineers to a 2010 prediction of 18 percent greater demand over the coming decade.

[class name=”dont_print_this”]

By the Way

BY THE WAY
When news breaks, this blog shows that Miller-McCune has the topic covered.

[/class] In recent years, the upward spurt in new petroleum engineers’ starting salaries reflects these trends. From an “already high $43,674 in 1997,” average bachelor’s degree starting salaries leapt to $86,220 in 2010, write Hal Salzman of Rutgers University and Leonard Lynn of Case Western Reserve University in a paper presented to the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management.

In response, the number of Americans graduating with bachelor’s degrees in petroleum engineering more than doubled since 2003, even as the number of Americans earning petroleum engineering master’s degrees lagged. Because “most industry demand is at the Bachelor’s level,” Salzman and Lynn believe that today’s new graduates are mirroring the choices made by the computer graduates of the 1990s dot-com boom, who flocked to industry’s enticing opportunities rather than to graduate school.

As demand and pay have risen, so have both the number and percentage of Americans in petroleum engineering programs. “At the Bachelor’s level, the number and percent of total graduates who are on student visas dropped to the lowest proportion of total graduates in the last 15 years,” write Salzman and Lynn.

The notion that the U.S. can’t produce enough “students with the qualifications to become engineers in response to demonstrated demand [is] ill-founded,” they conclude. Not only are the science and math skills of America’s best students increasing, they state, but those students’ ability to spot and respond to real career opportunities remains as sharp as ever.

Sign up for the free Miller-McCune.com e-newsletter.

“Like” Miller-McCune on Facebook.

Follow Miller-McCune on Twitter.

Add Miller-McCune.com news to your site.

Subscribe to Miller-McCune

Beryl Lieff Benderly
Beryl Lieff Benderly is a Washington-based journalist who writes the monthly “Taken for Granted” column on science policy and careers for the website of Science magazine. Recently elected a Fellow of the American Society for the Advancement of Science, Benderly has written eight books and hundreds of articles for national magazines and Web publications.

More From Beryl Lieff Benderly

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

November 26 • 4:00 PM

Turmoil at JPMorgan

Examiners are reportedly blocked from doing their job as “London Whale” trades blow up.


November 26 • 2:00 PM

Rich Kids Are More Likely to Be Working for Dad

Nepotism is alive and well, especially for the well-off.


November 26 • 12:00 PM

How Do You Make a Living, Taxidermist?

Taxidermist Katie Innamorato talks to Noah Davis about learning her craft, seeing it become trendy, and the going-rate for a “Moss Fox.”


November 26 • 10:28 AM

Attitudes About Race Affect Actions, Even When They Don’t

Tiny effects of attitudes on individuals’ actions pile up quickly.


November 26 • 10:13 AM

Honeybees Touring America


November 26 • 10:00 AM

Understanding Money

In How to Speak Money, John Lanchester explains how the monied people talk about their mountains of cash.


November 26 • 8:00 AM

The Exponential Benefits of Eating Less

Eating less food—whole food and junk food, meat and plants, organic and conventional, GMO and non-GMO—would do a lot more than just better our personal health.


November 26 • 6:00 AM

The Incorruptible Bodies of Saints

Their figures were helped along by embalming, but, somehow, everyone forgot that part.


November 26 • 4:00 AM

The Geography of Real Estate Markets Is Shifting Under Our Feet

Policies aimed at unleashing supply in order to make housing more affordable are relying on outdated models.



November 25 • 4:00 PM

Is the Federal Reserve Bank of New York Doing Enough to Monitor Wall Street?

Bank President William Dudley says supervision is stronger than ever, but Democratic senators are unconvinced: “You need to fix it, Mr. Dudley, or we need to get someone who will.”


November 25 • 3:30 PM

Cultural Activities Help Seniors Retain Health Literacy

New research finds a link between the ability to process health-related information and regular attendance at movies, plays, and concerts.


November 25 • 12:00 PM

Why Did Doctors Stop Giving Women Orgasms?

You can thank the rise of the vibrator for that, according to technology historian Rachel Maines.


November 25 • 10:08 AM

Geography, Race, and LOLs

The online lexicon spreads through racial and ethnic groups as much as it does through geography and other traditional linguistic measures.


November 25 • 10:00 AM

If It’s Yellow, Seriously, Let It Mellow

If you actually care about water and the future of the species, you’ll think twice about flushing.


November 25 • 8:00 AM

Sometimes You Should Just Say No to Surgery

The introduction of national thyroid cancer screening in South Korea led to a 15-fold increase in diagnoses and a corresponding explosion of operations—but no difference in mortality rates. This is a prime example of over-diagnosis that’s contributing to bloated health care costs.



November 25 • 6:00 AM

The Long War Between Highbrow and Lowbrow

Despise The Avengers? Loathe the snobs who despise The Avengers? You’re not the first.


November 25 • 4:00 AM

Are Women More Open to Sex Than They Admit?

New research questions the conventional wisdom that men overestimate women’s level of sexual interest in them.


November 25 • 2:00 AM

The Geography of Innovation, or, Why Almost All Japanese People Hate Root Beer

Innovation is not a product of population density, but of something else entirely.


November 24 • 4:00 PM

Federal Reserve Announces Sweeping Review of Its Big Bank Oversight

The Federal Reserve Board wants to look at whether the views of examiners are being heard by higher-ups.



November 24 • 2:00 PM

That Catcalling Video Is a Reminder of Why Research Methods Are So Important

If your methods aren’t sound then neither are your findings.


November 24 • 12:00 PM

Yes, Republicans Can Still Win the White House

If the economy in 2016 is where it was in 2012 or better, Democrats will likely retain the White House. If not, well….


November 24 • 11:36 AM

Feeling—Not Being—Wealthy Cuts Support for Economic Redistribution

A new study suggests it’s relative wealth that leads people to oppose taxing the rich and giving to the poor.


Follow us


Attitudes About Race Affect Actions, Even When They Don’t

Tiny effects of attitudes on individuals' actions pile up quickly.

Geography, Race, and LOLs

The online lexicon spreads through racial and ethnic groups as much as it does through geography and other traditional linguistic measures.

Feeling—Not Being—Wealthy Cuts Support for Economic Redistribution

A new study suggests it's relative wealth that leads people to oppose taxing the rich and giving to the poor.

Sufferers of Social Anxiety Disorder, Your Friends Like You

The first study of friends' perceptions suggest they know something's off with their pals but like them just the same.

Standing Up for My Group by Kicking Yours

Members of a minority ethnic group are less likely to express support for gay equality if they believe their own group suffers from discrimination.

The Big One

One in two United States senators and two in five House members who left office between 1998 and 2004 became lobbyists. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.