International Changes Environmental Trends Dip In Student Survey

Most geoscience graduates finding employment in North America are still finding positions in the environmental sector, but the overall percentage of students doing so continues to decline.

And in a finding that is perhaps related to that trend, environmental geology dropped dramatically as an academic "strength" for geoscience departments across the continent.

These were two findings of the latest "Report on the Status of Academic Geoscience Departments," an annual survey that tracks educational trends around the world.

The survey, started in 1992 by Barry Katz, with Texaco in Houston, was originally a project sponsored by AAPG's Research Committee. This latest survey, however, was the first effort conducted jointly with the American Geological Institute.

The survey's purpose is to determine trends in:

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Most geoscience graduates finding employment in North America are still finding positions in the environmental sector, but the overall percentage of students doing so continues to decline.

And in a finding that is perhaps related to that trend, environmental geology dropped dramatically as an academic "strength" for geoscience departments across the continent.

These were two findings of the latest "Report on the Status of Academic Geoscience Departments," an annual survey that tracks educational trends around the world.

The survey, started in 1992 by Barry Katz, with Texaco in Houston, was originally a project sponsored by AAPG's Research Committee. This latest survey, however, was the first effort conducted jointly with the American Geological Institute.

The survey's purpose is to determine trends in:

  • Department size.
  • Student populations.
  • Technical strengths.
  • Post--graduation employment.
  • Research funding levels.

A trend that Katz' report called "most significant" was the rise in the number of jobs being obtained outside of the geosciences by international students -- about 30 percent of the graduating students outside of North America found non--geoscience industry jobs.

Another significant trend was marked in the number of students entering the petroleum industry in North America. The percentage of graduates entering the petroleum industry in North America was down slightly from last year, Katz said, but that figure still represents about 24 percent of the employment market.

"This represents a slight decrease when compared with last year," Katz said, "but still is significantly higher than reported between 1992 and 1997."

Katz, the technical program co-chair for the recent AAPG international conference in Bali, noted that in this survey -- for the first time -- reported departmental strengths outside of North America were similar to those of North America.

In the latest survey, the top three departmental academic strengths for North America were:

  • Stratigraphy.
  • Hydrology.
  • Inorganic geochemistry.

The previous survey's "strength" list was led by environmental geology, which fell to seventh place in the latest ranking, inorganic geochemistry and stratigraphy.

Other noted changes in the current strength list include what Katz called "the increase in the relative rank of paleontology (from tenth place to sixth) and a decrease in the rank of non--seismic geophysics (from sixth to fourteenth place).

"Only six departments in North America reported petroleum geology as an academic strength," he added. "Five departments outside of North America reported (it) as an academic strength."

Other findings in the survey include:

  • Mining accounted for about 6 percent of post--graduate placement.
  • The percentage of graduates finding jobs in the environmental sector continues to decrease.
  • The average number of faculty positions in North America has remained nearly constant for the past six years; outside of North America, the number is declining.
  • There are more Ph.D. geoscience students in North America than from the rest of the world.
  • The average research funding in North America is $610,000; outside of North America, the average is about $310,500.

The report also describes three major cycles in geoscience enrollments that occurred during the past 50 years, according to AGI.

The first cycle, in the 1950s, reflected a robust extraction industry in oil, gas and minerals. Statistics from that first cycle and the two later cycles "dramatically illustrate how enrollment trends mirror real--world economic factors such as global commodity prices, national awareness of environmental hazards or resource shortages, and population demographics."

What also emerges is a statistical picture of a phenomenon that others have expressed in the past: Geoscience enrollment and employment trends are out of phase.

"Increased numbers of students choose geoscience curriculums when they see employment trends rising," AGI observed. "By the time these students graduate, employment opportunities have often dropped back, dissuading incoming students from pursuing the same course of study.

"Yet by the time they graduate, employment opportunities are likely to be on the upsurge.

"Greater communication is needed between the departments and the employers to reduce the imbalance and amplitude between supply and demand," the report concludes.

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