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

How so?

Todd Staples
Todd Staples

Oil and gas industry dollars – state royalties received are about $1.3 billion each 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 Texas Permanent School reached a new high of $37 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 Texas public schools. 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 fund education in local communities.

But, more than tax dollars and royalty payments, the energy community is cultivating the next generation of STEM 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 in Midland. The academy will put West Texas high school students on a fast track toward advanced degrees and certifications necessary 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.

These types of programs that get more students interested and committed to STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – will be critical for Texas to remain competitive and for a strong quality of life for workers.

A report by the President’s Advisory Council on Science and Technology projected that the U.S. needs more than one 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.

Traditionally, Latinos haven’t pursued engineering and STEM degrees in high numbers, though recent years have seen some increases. The Texas A&M–Chevron Engineering Academy could be a real game changer in that regard.

Four two-year colleges in Texas – Houston Community College, Texas Southmost College (Brownsville), Alamo Colleges (San Antonio) and El Centro College (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 placing them on a path toward a four-year engineering degree from Texas A&M University.

Early reviews of the new program laud it for not only its potential impact on the number of STEM degrees awarded in our state and to an underserved community, but also for the affordability it offers many first-generation college students. Participants in the engineering academy could save as much as $14,000 for those who stay in the program for the full two years.

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.

Editor’s Note: The above op-ed first appeared in the Texas Tribune. Click here to read the op-ed in the Tribune’s TribTalk.