Mining majors on the decline

By By Ana Breton

By Ana Breton

Editor’s note: This article is the fourth in a four-part series about the U’s reaction to the Crandall Canyon Mine cave-in in Huntington, Utah.

As the search efforts to save six trapped miners in the Crandall Canyon Mine continue without success, the number of students in the department of mining engineering dwindles. The size of the graduating class from the department has shrunk to less than half of what it was a decade ago.

There were 14 students who graduated with a degree in mining engineering in 1997. Last spring, there were only three.

The College of Mines and Earth Sciences has consistently had one of the smallest groups of students graduating with one of its majors during the last 10 years.

The highest number of student mining majors was 160 during a boom in the mining industry in the late 1970s, said Kim McCarter, chair of the mining engineering department. According to the Office of Budget and Institutional Analysis, the lowest number was two, in 2003.

The reason the numbers are dropping, McCarter said, might be because of the negative image of mining that has been portrayed by media coverage of mine accidents.

“Because of the interest the public has placed on the tragedy, mining has been painted as terribly dangerous,” McCarter said. “That’s not entirely justified.”

Statistics match McCarter’s statement. Fishing and related occupations, as well as piloting and aircraft engineering, have topped the list of the most dangerous jobs for the last two years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Mining, per capita, is not in the top-10 slots on the list.

False perspectives about the industry do not only cause graduation numbers to drop, but prevent new students from being interested in the program, McCarter said.

“We don’t know what effect (the tragedy) will have on our ability to recruit students,” he said. “Our students know more about mining than the average person. They know the conditions and the risks involved.”

James Donovan, assistant professor in the department of mining engineering, said recruiting new students into the program is vital because most workers in the field are nearing retirement age.

The department has increased recruitment efforts, which include more advertising than in prior years, Donovan said.

“We’re always trying to recruit, but mining is one of those industries that we all need, but it doesn’t get a lot of publicity unless something bad happens,” Donovan said. “I don’t know if we can ever do anything to change that.”

Donovan and McCarter said they would like the image of the mining industry to be one of a challenging and rewarding career with plenty of assets. They also want students to know that job opportunities await them upon graduation.

McCarter said the U, similar to many schools around the country, is only graduating about one-third of the number of people needed to fill jobs in the mining industry. Students who graduate in mining, he said, will have three to four jobs available once they graduate.

“Students need to know that there’s a world out there waiting for them,” Donovan said.

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