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Oil rigs and university can mix, Regina student says

Although some economists worry about young men leaving school for the oil patch, there's at least one Saskatchewan scholar-roughneck who says it works for him.

Jordan Ethier likes oil patch cash, but will finish degree

Although some economists worry about young men leaving school for the oil patch, there's at least one Saskatchewan scholar-roughneck who says it works for him.

Jordan Ethier, 23, will receive a double honours degree in political science and history at the University of Regina this spring, but unlike a lot of students, he's not worrying about piling up massive student loans.

Rig worker and scholar

He started taking jobs on the rigs following high school in 2009. He works in the oil patch every summer and fills in on other times when he can fit it into his schedule.

Once he's out of school, he plans to go back for another 16 months to further chip away at his school expenses.

He spoke with CBC News this week about a new report from Statistics Canada which shows that fewer young men between the ages of 17 and 24 go to university in provinces that offer high-paying jobs in the oil patch.

Human capital formation

"The degree to which improved wage offers induce youth to enter the workforce and to leave school is a key question underlying human capital formation, the report said.

You know, all of a sudden you buy a truck, all of a sudden you buy a new Ski-doo, and you buy a new house, and now you've got to pay for this.- Jordan Ethier explains why students leave school and don't come back

In Saskatchewan, 2.6 per cent fewer men enrolled in university between 2003 and 2008 when oil prices were skyrocketing.

Ethier says he's been able to balance his studies with his need to generate income, but he can understand how some men are tempted to skip school to be a roughneck.

"You know, all of a sudden you buy a truck, all of a sudden you buy a new Ski-doo, and you buy a new house, and now you've got to pay for this," he said. "It's just like a self-perpetuating problem."

Desire to be a historian

Ethier says his story bucks the trend identified in the StatsCan report. Life on the rigs will be temporary, he says.

"I want to be a teacher, I want to be a historian," he said. "I don't want to be a driller."

He added he has tremendous respect for people who do work on oil rigs.

The StatsCan report, titled Wages, Youth Employment, and School Enrolment: Recent Evidence from Increases in World Oil Prices, notes at least one positive benefit of the booming oil business -- it brings back into the labour market those who were neither enrolled in school nor employed."

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