For many years, professor Lloyd Heinze of the Texas Tech University Petroleum Engineering Department has been collecting US petroleum engineering enrollment data from all of the department heads in the country. These data have always been enlightening, but the current trends are more than enlightening, they are cause for concern. Fueled by the strong demand for petroleum engineering graduates at all degree levels for the past several years, petroleum engineering enrollment in the US, particularly at the undergraduate level, is increasing in a manner similar to the period between 1976 and 1982.
The enrollment data in Fig. 1 is alarming, and each university needs to understand the industry situation to determine its proper course of action. In our opinion, engineering departments cannot continue increasing enrollment at the current rate or they most likely will experience a sudden decline, as they did in the mid-1980s. At some point in the near future, enrollment needs to level off and grow at a much lower rate, if at all.
Those of us who have been in the business since the 1970s remember the enrollment “mountain” shown in Fig. 1 that peaked in 1984. For those of us in academia, the most significant part of this mountain was the incredibly fast rate at which enrollment declined, causing considerable stress in all departments and the closures of some departments. For petroleum engineering students graduating in those years, the implications were dire, for there were no jobs in the industry for a large number of them.
A closer examination of the past few years helps to understand where the growth is occurring. Fig. 2 shows bachelor of science degree enrollments in petroleum engineering departments in the US. Of particular interest is the change that has occurred in just the past year.