The North Dakota Oil Boom Now Pays for College
Life + Money

The North Dakota Oil Boom Now Pays for College

Location, location, location. That’s long been the mantra of real estate agents everywhere. Now, it turns out, that applies to a college education.  

All high school graduates in Williams County, North Dakota, are eligible for a full ride to two-year Williston State College starting in fall of 2015 - including fees and books - the college announced this week. Students must attend full time (taking 12-18 credit hours per semester) and stay in good academic standing. Even local high school graduates from earlier years qualify.

Related: How to Find a Job in the North Dakota Oil Boom

This opportunity is due to several wells of support in oil-rich North Dakota - the Alva J. Field Memorial Trust, which is donating $1 million; the state itself, which is contributing $500,000; and the Williston State College Foundation, which in the past seven years has seen its balance sheet grow from roughly $7.5 million to $27 million.

“A lot of that is oil revenue,” Terry Olson, director of the foundation and interim president of Williston State College, told AP. The same oil boom that has created high-paying jobs for able-bodied adults has also created a need for nurses, managers, accountants and others, Olson added – “everything else that goes along with a booming environment.”

The scholarship is “an extraordinary opportunity” for local high school graduates, said North Dakota Lieutenant Governor Drew Wrigley in a statement announcing the program. Current in-state residents pay $150.27 per credit hour for tuition and fees at Williston State, which offers associate degrees in everything from finance to welding technology and residential carpentry technology. The campus occupies 80 acres in Williston, in northwestern North Dakota, site of the current shale boom.

Related: Cracks in the Armor of North Dakota’s Fracking Boom

Bakken Shale, the state’s main oil-producing reservoir, contains billions of barrels of crude, which has enabled North Dakota to become the second largest oil-producing state in the nation surpassing Alaska and California, the Energy Information Administration said recently. In April, North Dakota produced 30 million barrels of oil – the same amount it produced in all of 2004. Fracking – or hydraulic fracturing – uses highly pressurized water to force both crude oil and natural gas from the shale deep below the Earth. 

Oil production in the Bakken is estimated to keep rising until about 2020, then level off and begin to decline. So while it may pay to graduate from high school in the northwest corner of North Dakota and attend Williston State for free, it may also pay to do it now – before the boom goes bust.

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