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 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 their future if the frenzied pace of oil and gas drilling from here to North Dakota to Texas falters and work dries up. But with youth unemployment at 12 percent nationwide and college tuition soaring, students here on the snow-glazed plains of eastern Montana said they were ready to take their chances.
"I just figured, the oil field is here and I'd make the money while I could," said Tegan Sivertson, 19, who monitors pipelines for a gas company, sometimes working 15-hour days. "I didn't want to waste the money and go to school when I could make just as much."And, since they can take college level courses at a number of online sites, they can have the best of both worlds, if they so choose. Which seems to be on the mind of at least one youngster;
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.Anyone who has ever spent time in Eastern Montana can appreciate the attitude.