AUSTIN - The Texas Oil & Gas Association released the following column as a part of TXOGA's year-long celebration of its centennial anniversary.
All across Texas, students, their parents, teachers and school administrators are getting back into the swing of things as this new school year has started. While curriculum, classroom materials and technology have changed over the decades, one thing has remained constant - the meaningful impact the Texas oil and natural gas industry has had in the success of our state's education system.
Billions of dollars from Texas oil and natural gas activity is paid each year into our state's Permanent School Fund and Permanent University Fund. The Permanent School Fund recently became the largest educational endowment in America and is valued at over $44 billion - money that will be available for our state's public schools in perpetuity. And because of the money generated by West Texas oil and natural gas, UT Austin is using millions from the Permanent University Fund to offer free tuition to students with family income less than $65,000 starting next year.
The Texas oil and natural gas 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 - money that is used to enhance learning, upgrade technology and safety equipment, and hire and retain the best teachers.
Beyond tax dollars and royalty payments, the Texas oil and natural gas industry is investing untold time, talent and treasure in Texas schools and their students and teachers through innovative education programs and productive partnerships aimed at providing a state-of-the-art education for the next generation of Texans.
In 2015, Midland ISD, Midland College and West Texas oil and natural gas operators such as Pioneer Natural Resources joined together to launch the Petroleum Academy, a program that allows local high schoolers interested in a career in oil and natural gas to receive hands-on, real-world experience in the industry by learning directly from energy employees in their classrooms. The program also includes field trips to training facilities and site tours and internships for seniors looking to join the workforce straight out of high school.
The Texas A&M-Chevron Engineering Academies, available at four two-year colleges in Texas, allow 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. The program, which was seeded by a $5 million gift from Chevron, has been lauded 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. The program has also expanded to include several more two-year colleges and brought on additional industry partners such as Concho Resources.
The Texas City ISD Industrial Trades Center is the result of a forward-looking collaborative effort to prepare local high school students in Galveston County with the education needed to learn skilled trades and pursue careers with local companies. The program has a strong partner in the area's oil and natural gas operators including Marathon Petroleum and Valero. Both companies were prominent in driving the development and funding of the Center, creating curriculum that prepares students for the industry's needs, and donating equipment and supplies. Marathon Petroleum also established a STEM LAB at Texas City High School.
The CITGO Innovation Academy for Engineering, Environmental & Marine Science at Moody High School in Corpus Christi creates a rigorous four-year college preparatory program that includes upper-level engineering, mathematics and science courses, with the goal of graduating students who are college or career ready.
Exxon has been a consistent advocate of STEM education. Worldwide, the company has contributed $1.25 billion to education programs since 2000. Here in Texas, Exxon champions numerous programs that aim to inspire and prepare students for a career in the energy industry, including STEM camps, professional development camps for STEM teachers and "Introduce a Girl to Engineering" events featuring company employees demonstrating their experiences within the energy industry.
The Energy Institute in Houston was the first high school in the U.S. created for the sole purpose of preparing students for careers in the energy sector and is backed by strong partnerships from multiple Texas oil and natural gas companies including BP, Phillips 66, Noble Energy and Schlumberger. These partners host field trips, provide guest speakers, and fund student activities.
Shell has been a long-time sponsor of the National Science Teachers Association, and, for the past 23 years, has sponsored the Shell Science Teaching Award, which recognizes outstanding science teachers and provides makeovers for science laboratories.
The Oilfield Energy Center in Houston offers schools across Texas the opportunity to experience their Mobile Oilfield Learning Unit - otherwise known as a MOLU. This traveling exhibit features curriculum-based, hands-on activities about energy and technologies and sciences involved with the oil and natural gas industry.
From the Panhandle to the Gulf Coast, in communities rural, suburban and urban, Texas oil and natural gas companies are steadfast partners in efforts to expand and improve STEM programs. These efforts are critical because data shows that not enough students are pursuing STEM careers to meet the oil and natural gas industry's workforce needs. The industry will need to hire nearly 1.9 million oil and natural gas workers between 2015 and 2035 so expanding STEM education opportunities is will be critical to keep Texas competitive in an ever-changing world.
Luckily for Texas students, jobs in the oil and natural gas industry are among the highest paying in the state. And while we know there is a projected shortage of STEM-educated workers, the industry isn't just made up of the engineers and scientists. Job opportunities vary widely and require diverse backgrounds, including attorneys, architects, accountants, truck drivers, carpenters, welders, human relations, business and public relations.
As the Texas oil and natural gas industry grows to meet the energy demands of our state and nation, so does the need for future generations of Texans to fill the various roles required to see this growth continue. Through high-quality, innovative, hands-on educational opportunities, Texas oil and natural gas companies are ensuring that even more Texans will have the opportunity to work in an industry that is growing our economy, securing our future, and making life better for people here in Texas and across the world.