How energy is fueling education in Texas

Photo by Bill Ledbetter

As Texas public school hallways fill with students again and college students return to campus this month, it’s fair to say that Texas energy producers are fueling their education.

How so?

Oil and gas industry dollars — the state receives about $1.3 billion in royalties every year — are paid into our state’s Permanent School Fund and Permanent University Fund. Together, these funds are worth over $63 billion. Last year, the Permanent School Fund reached a new high of $38 billion and became the largest educational endowment in America.

Locally, the Texas energy industry also pays property taxes to independent school districts, accounting for millions of dollars each year for public schools in the state. In some communities, the oil and gas share of the school district’s tax base tops 70, 80 and even 90 percent.

From Terrell ISD (56 percent) in North Texas to Andrews ISD (79.7 percent) and Sands ISD (91 percent) in West Texas, oil and gas producers make significant, direct contributions to education in local communities.

But more than tax dollars and royalty payments, the energy community is cultivating the next generation of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) graduates and skilled workers with innovative education programs and productive partnerships with some of Texas’ leading colleges and universities.

Midland ISD, in partnership with Pioneer Natural Resources, recently launched the Petroleum Academy, which will put West Texas high school students on a fast track toward advanced degrees and certifications needed to work in engineering and energy.

Designed to increase college and career readiness, the Petroleum Academy is squarely focused on meeting local and state workforce needs. Pioneer is providing experts in the classroom and critical hands-on access to operations in the oil field.

Programs like these that get more students interested and committed to STEM fields will be critical as Texas seeks to remain competitive and sustain a strong quality of life for workers.

A report by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology projected that the U.S. needs more than 1 million additional STEM degrees in the next decade to meet workforce demand. Here in Texas alone, the projected demand for engineers is estimated to reach 62,000 by 2022.

Programs like the Texas A&M-Chevron Engineering Academy could also be a game-changer in attracting Latinos, who traditionally haven’t pursued engineering and STEM degrees in high numbers. Four two-year colleges in Texas — Houston Community College, Texas Southmost College in Brownsville, Alamo Colleges in San Antonio and El Centro College in Dallas — are the first partners in the new program, which is seeded by a $5 million gift from Chevron.

The program allows students to remain close to home for the first two years of their studies while putting them on a path toward a four-year engineering degree from Texas A&M University. Early reviews of the new program laud it not only for its potential impact on underserved communities and the number of STEM degrees awarded in our state, but also for the affordability it offers many first-generation college students. 

Whether it’s direct dollars to school districts or innovations in classroom academies and prep programs aimed at graduating more students in engineering fields, energy truly is fueling our Texas education system.

Disclosure: Texas A&M University is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Todd Staples

President of the Texas Oil and Gas Association