SIDNEY, Mont. — For most high school seniors, a college degree is the surest path to a decent job and a stable future. But here in oil country, some teenagers are choosing the oil fields over universities, forgoing higher education for jobs with salaries that can start at $50,000 a year.
It is a lucrative but risky decision for any 18-year-old to make, one that could foreclose on his future if the frenzied pace of oil and gas drilling from here to North Dakota to Texas falters and work dries up. But with unemployment at more than 12 percent nationwide for young adults and college tuition soaring, students here on the snow-glazed plains of eastern Montana said they were ready to take their chances.
... Even gas stations are enticing students away from college. Katorina Pippenger, a high school senior in the tiny town of Bainville, Mont., said she makes $24 an hour as a cashier in nearby Williston, N.D., the epicenter of the boom. Her plan is to work for a few years after she graduates this spring, save up and flee. She likes the look of Denver. “I just want to make money and get out,” she said.
But school officials in eastern Montana said more and more students were interested in working for at least a year after graduation and getting technical training instead of a four-year degree.
Last year, one-third of the graduating seniors at Sidney High School headed off to work instead of going to college or joining the military, a record percentage.
Uh-oh ... One out of three high school graduates gets a job.
... Meanwhile, enrollment at Dawson Community College in Glendive, about an hour from Sidney, has fallen to 225 students from 446 just a few years ago, as fewer local students pursue two-year degrees.
Obviously, the solution is to get undocumented workers to do the jobs Americans just will do. Remember, cheap labor and diversity are the solutions for whatever problems you've got, even if they aren't problems.