BISMARCK, N.D. — A Williston State College program that offers free tuition and fees to high school graduates in the North Dakota oil patch has pushed enrollments at the school to record highs, and the small two-year school is extending the effort thanks to a new infusion of cash.

The college began the Williams County Graduate Scholarship program two years ago to increase the number of professionals such as nurses and accountants in the booming oil patch. It was funded mainly by $1 million from the Alva J. Field Memorial Trust and $500,000 from the state.

The trust named for a man who was a teacher and community leader in Williston in the early 1900s is committing another $800,000 to the program, and another $400,000 is coming through the North Dakota Higher Education Challenge Fund. The Legislature created the matching grant fund in 2013 to spur philanthropic giving to higher education.

“For the Trust to donate this additional amount shows a real commitment to this idea over the course of the next several years,” Williston State College Foundation Executive Director Terry Olson said, adding that the program’s success has “blown us away.”

The scholarship program has awarded about $800,000 to 428 students. The initial group received free tuition, fees and books, though books have now been eliminated. With the differing book needs of students, “the logistics became quite difficult to manage,” school spokeswoman Natalie Boese said.

Trenton graduate Jacob Schaubel said the program changed his life.

“Honestly, I wouldn’t be able to afford (college) otherwise,” said Schaubel, 20, who is studying liberal arts.

The 344 students who received aid in the first year of the program comprised one-third of the school’s record-breaking enrollment of 1,038 students. The student count was up 18 percent from the previous year and up nearly 5 percent from the previous record set in 2011. This fall, enrollment set another record, at 1,039 students, with program-qualifying students making up 41 percent of the student body.

The program is giving students needed financial support “at a time when students all across the nation see their dream of a college education prevented by the high cost to attend college,” Acting Williston State President John Miller said.

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