Why North Dakota Students Don't Need To Graduate To Find Jobs

North Dakota students basic creditsIf California is the Golden State, and Florida is the Sunshine State then North Dakota might as well be the Employment State.

Though its formal nickname is the Peace Garden State, North Dakota currently has the lowest unemployment rate in the U.S. at 3.5 percent. That's 5.6 points lower than the national tally of 9.1, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

And as a story on CNN Money demonstrates, the fortunes of North Dakota's 650,000 residents rest in large part on an energy boom. The state's petroleum industry has been such an employment gusher that some students have ditched their studies to work in the oil fields.

Sizing up the employment vs. studies dynamic, a Williston State College professor interviewed by CNN Money put it plainly: "At some point they decide, 'Well, college will always be here ... but the oil boom won't.' "

With no mandate for a completed undergraduate degree required to occupy many energy sector jobs, the North Dakota residents are looking at salaries averaging around $100,000. Most of the jobs are in rigs work, including maintenance, or on the oil wells themselves.

The chance to cash in on jobs tied to the black gold has contributed to a graduation rate of roughly 35 percent at Williston State, which offers two-year associate degrees.

"A lot of students are getting a few credits they need -- like one or two welding courses -- and entering the labor market," Mike Hillman, the chancellor for academic and student affairs with the North Dakota University System told CNN Money, adding that he expects the figure to drop even further as the jobs continue to emerge.

Those seeking solutions to high unemployment in the U.S. have looked to states like North Dakota, as well as two others recently profiled by AOL Jobs -- Texas and Utah. And they provide valuable lessons.

In Texas, the state jobs boom has been a centerpiece of Gov. Rick Perry's presidential campaign. As he touts himself as "America's Jobs Governor," Perry points to the oft-cited retort that Texas "has created more jobs over the last decade than the rest of the states combined."

Indeed, Texas has seen a net gain of 907,000 jobs between December 2000 and December 2010. The entire payroll in the U.S. grew by 1.6 million jobs during the span, as PolitiFact, the fact-check project, puts it.

"Texas is quite a low-regulation state. It's cheaper to do business here than quite a few other states," Mine Yucel, senior economist and vice president with the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas said in an interview with ABC News. The nation's woes at the gas pump are also being credited for boosting the Texas economy. In 2009, the average price of gas was $2.35 per gallon. That figure now stands at $3.60, providing additional revenue for the state.

But PolitiFact took issue with Perry's contention that Texas created more jobs "than the rest of the states combined." The claim, it says, only holds up when comparing Texas to states that have also had a net positive job gain over the last decade, leaving out 31 others.

Critics also say that the jobs numbers must be appreciated in the context of other economic factors in Texas. That state has the highest rate of uninsured workers in the nation at 27.4 percent, according to research conducted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in conjunction with the State Health Access Data Assistance Center at the University of Minnesota.

In Utah, its consistent attraction to tech companies, and the jobs they bring, has been chalked up to the state's regulatory framework.

While Utah is not alone in offering tax credit incentives to companies doing business in-state, its Economic Development Tax Increment Financing (EDTIF) system is set apart by making its credit post-performance based, says Michael Sullivan, the director of communications with the Governor's Office of Economic Development

"Our program is sustainable," he says in an interview with AOL Jobs. "States are suing companies for return of tax incentives. We don't ever have to sue anybody, because we collect the dollar before we give the quarter back." But the state's energy sector is also in play.

"There's a laundry list of reasons for why this is happening," Marty Carpenter, spokesman for the statewide Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, told AOL Jobs. "We have the lowest energy rates in the country," he emphasized, before noting a host of other reasons. Indeed, energy costs are on average 35 percent lower in Utah than the national average.


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