A public debate has been raging in the state over the rising cost and, some say, the questionable value of a college degree. At the same time, the oil and gas boom has employers hiring people with or without one. For some students, the case for higher education is weaker, and college recruiters are scrambling to adapt.
College enrollment, while still growing, has slowed noticeably in areas closest to major petroleum-production sites. If that trend continues, educators worry, it could threaten statewide efforts to create a more highly educated work force. And if the booming oil business one day goes bust, people who opted out of college could find their opportunities limited.
In response, colleges are trying to make themselves relevant to an industry that typically trains its own workers. The colleges are doing so by starting and expanding both certificate and degree programs to produce welders, pipe fitters, truck drivers, and, at the four-year and graduate levels, engineers. Institutions are making the case that even if a degree isn't required for a first job, it can help advance a career.