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Oil Patch School Enrollment to Continue Rising

Growth will require school districts to add classrooms and teachers and perhaps school buildings, depending on circumstances and existing infrastructure within individual school districts.

For years, school districts in western North Dakota were challenged with steady to declining school enrollments. However, all that changed when the oil boom hit the region and that trend probably will continue.

That’s according to a study by researchers in the North Dakota State University Agribusiness and Applied Economics Department.

“Growth will require school districts to add classrooms and teachers and perhaps school buildings, depending on circumstances and existing infrastructure within individual school districts,” says Nancy Hodur, research assistant professor and one of the study’s authors.

The enrollment projections study was commissioned by the North Dakota Association of Oil and Gas Producing Counties. The Williston, Dickinson, Ray, Stanley and Watford City school districts were used for the study.

In some cases, increases have strained existing school district physical capacity and resources, according to the study. For example, in 2011, the Williston School District converted a library into a classroom and moved the library into a hallway.

The research team of Dean Bangsund, Richard Rathge, Karen Olson and Hodur used three different models to look at future school district growth.

Model one looked at trends observed in the school districts during the last two years. Growth from model one ranged from a 23 percent increase in Dickinson to a 153 percent increase in Watford City. In the next five years, the model projects there would be 178 more students in Ray, 200 in Stanley, 635 in Dickinson, 1,118 in Williston and more than 1,300 in Watford City in the next five years.

Model two looked at employment trends and produced more modest enrollment projections.

“This model likely is the best indicator of long-term projections because it only considers population changes associated with a long-term, permanent workforce,” Hodur says. “However, the model likely underestimates projections in the short term and does not take the temporary workforce into consideration.”

Even the more modest enrollment model produced projected increases through the next five years of 70 students in Ray, nearly 300 in Stanley and Watford City, nearly 600 in Dickinson and more than 700 in Williston.

The third model the research team used followed housing trends and has the most liberal assumptions. This model provides estimates of enrollment when all housing slated for development is completed and occupied.

With the exception of Ray, where additional housing development is limited by infrastructure constraints, enrollments were projected to increase by 1,668 students in Williston, 2,454 in Dickinson and 393 in Stanley. An estimate for Watford City is pending.

“While each model has strengths and limitations, collectively, the three models provide a range of estimates based on observed trends with both conservative and liberal assumptions,” Hodur says. “However, each model forecasts enrollment increases that likely will be sufficient to strain existing infrastructure.”

""Understanding how the numbers of students will change in western North Dakota due to oil and gas activity is extremely important to our school districts in order for them to properly prepare for growth,” says Dan Brosz, president of the North Dakota Association of Oil and Gas Producing Counties. “Having research-based projections also allows our association to advocate for the proper funding that our school districts will need for the next biennium.""

“All three models should be maintained and updated on a regular basis to continue to monitor enrollment trends,” Bangsund says. “An understanding of future demand is critical for school districts, administrators and policymakers to appropriately plan for and manage growth in public school systems in North Dakota.”


NDSU Agriculture Communication – March 6, 2013

Source:Nancy Hodur, (701) 231-7357, nancy.hodur@ndsu.edu
Source:Brady Pelton, (701) 751-3597, brady.pelton@midconetwork.com
Source:Dean Bangsund, (701) 231-7471, d.bangsund@ndsu.edu
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136, richard.mattern@ndsu.edu
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