In the grand scheme of engineering disciplines, petroleum engineering is a relative newcomer. Early curricula focused on the entire field of endeavor from exploration to refining depending on the expertise of the faculty. The modem curriculum, however, has been fairly standardized through the process of accreditation. Throughout its relatively short history there have been numerous arguments about what elements of the curriculum were more important, strong fundamentals, and applied sciences vs. specialization in petroleum engineering; business skills vs. humanities and social sciences.
Today, as we are all aware, our industry is in a continual state of change. Since 1988 extraction has lost 53% of its workforce. Industry has become more efficient, doing more with better technology and fewer people. The industry, which has always had an international side, has moved overseas as companies seek exploration opportunities outside the US. As the perceived need for petroleum engineers in the US has declined, so has the number of petroleum engineering departments. These trends have been a cause of concern to petroleum engineering educators because of the historically strong ties between industry and university petroleum engineering departments.
Over the last five years, a series of three colloquia has been held to discuss issues related to petroleum engineering education. The first colloquium, held during the summer of 1991, focused on supply and demand issues along with a variety of issues related to perspectives on the educational needs of future petroleum engineering students (Wilhite, 1991). During this first colloquium, schools were asked to indicate their desired enrollment levels. Evaluating these desired enrollments showed that enrollments would be in excess of the projected needs of industry. It was clear that if enrollments were to rise, other employment outlets for petroleum engineers would need to be found.