Paying for College

Real-World Anxieties

Timing is everything. Back in 1999, when our son graduated from college with his EE degree, he had a basketful of job offers. Some companies that pursued him would pick him up with a limo at the airport and drive him to a luxury hotel for a brief respite before his follow-up interview. Others courted him with all the care and delicacy of a high school junior asking a senior to the prom. That was during the height of the dot-com bubble.  Things are different now. Much different.

The media are filled with stories about the recession's effect on workers and businesses. Almost every aspect of our society has been affected in some way--either directly or indirectly--by the fallout from these hard times. One area that has received special emphasis is this year's college graduates.


Ana Veciana-Suarez, in the Miami Herald, writes about how this spring's grads are getting some hard lessons about hard times:

First, we fretted incessantly about developmental milestones, then about preschool academics before moving on to kindergarten readiness. Later, during the dozen years that followed our children's entry into big-kid classrooms, we plotted and prodded and pushed to position our promising young adults for the Holy Grail of higher education . . .

. . . This, we believed, was the ticket to their economic success. A college diploma guaranteed a comfortable foothold in the American Dream.

Now some of our children have graduated into the worst economy their generation has known, and what should be a time of celebration has morphed into a bout of full-blown anxiety. Will they land a job? Will it pay enough to support them? How long before I can cut the cord?

All these job worries remind me of a refrain from my childhood, one that my parents repeated so often that it rang with both promise and premonition. La calle esta dura, mi'ja. Indeed, the streets were hard for people who had gone into exile penniless.

Though I don't have a college graduate this year, I find it impossible to escape the obsessive chatter of relatives, neighbors and friends. Everyone tells a tale of assumptions turned on their heads, of dreams dashed or waylaid. The factors that once assured a good-paying job have run smack into the reality of a recession . . .

Need more evidence? How about this story summary from the New York Times:

COLLEGE GRADUATES FURNITURE MOVERS; Hard Times Responsible for Many Educated Men Taking Any Kind of Work. NO WORK FOR SIX MONTHS Two Mechanical Engineers, Graduates of Columbia, Glad to Earn a Few Dollars Arranging Furniture.

CBS News tells about Blake Taylor:

Blake Taylor, a senior at Catholic University in Washington DC, expected to be an accountant when she graduates this May. But then her fortunes changed.

She had a job offer that was rescinded because the company says it's no longer hiring.

"It's hard; it's definitely hard," she said. "When they told me, I definitely felt like I had the air kicked out of me and now, I was just like, 'Ok, I'm at square one again.'"

College News puts some numbers to the headlines:

In the past, holding a college-degree has acted as a shield against lay-offs, even during times of economic recession.

While college graduates are faring better than the general population, the unemployment rate for degree-holders in December reached 3.7%, just shy of the record 3.9% in January 1983.

The unemployment rate for the population as a whole reached 7.2% in December, and has surpassed 10.5% for those without a high school diploma.

In 2004, the Bureau of Labor Statistics noted that the 28% of the population over 25 that holds a bachelor’s or graduate degree, “continue to have bright prospects.”

However, recently analysts from the agency told the Washington Post that the unemployment rate could rise past 4%, which would be the highest since they began tracking data by education level in 1970.

Last month, the number of working degree-holders fell by 282,000, but the number deemed unemployed rose by only 2,000. The government considers people unemployed if they are out of a job but looking for work . . .

But there is a bright spot:

Although college graduates are being hit hard by the recession, they are still faring better than younger or less-educated workers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics releases an annual report, “Occupational Projections and Training Data,” classifying a number of jobs according to entry level pay, openings, and other factors.

Based on this data, Forbes.com this week compiled a list of the top 10 job opportunities for college graduates. They included: public relations, sales, research, and actuary positions, among others. Read the article here. Hopefully, it will give you some ideas.

So, if all else fails in the job hunt, what's a college grad to do?  Well, creativity and persistence might help. Take Michael Volpe, for example.

After relentlessly pounding the industrial carpet at scores of job fairs, firing off hundreds of cover letters and knocking on dozens of doors since November, Michael Volpe was desperate.

The 25-year-old college graduate with a degree in physics and a couple of years with the Peace Corps is learning that the nation's capital is also the networking capital. And if you don't know the right people, landing a job can be daunting.

This week, he took his job search in a new direction, standing outside downtown D.C. Metro stops during morning rush hour with a sign around his neck reading, "ENTRY LEVEL JOB SEEKER."

"When you're out there with a sign around your neck, you can't get any lower," allowed Volpe, who is soft-spoken and finds it challenging to muster up the courage for a public crusade . . .

The ending of Michael's story might not be what you expect.  Check it out.

Don’t forget to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.