What you won't see on the graduation card
BY JULIE DELCOUR Associate Editor
Sunday, May 06, 2012
5/06/12 at 2:45 AM
Those graduation cards with the checks inside are stacked up ready to mail out - cards with chirpy challenges such as "Reach for the stars," "Follow your dream," "If opportunity doesn't knock, build a door," "Believe."
The Hallmark card writers, for obvious reasons, are ignoring the uncertainty - or is it white-knuckle panic - felt by so many upcoming college graduates (and their parents) about their employment prospects. Try finding a graduation card that blurts out the truth:
Congratulations, here's a little something for that four years of effort. Apply it toward:
- Paying off your $65,000 in student loans.
- Chipping in on your parents' electric bill after you move back home.
- Getting your Burger King uniform pants let out so you'll look sharp making $6.25 an hour.
Sometimes the truth just isn't inspirational. As a consequence, graduation cards seldom say: "Good luck at beating the odds - 85 percent of college graduates now live with their folks."
Last week, I downloaded two reports on the employment prospects for 2011 and 2012 college graduates. One is headlined, "1 in 2 new graduates are jobless or underemployed." The other is entitled, "Better outlook for 2012 College Graduates."
Let's start with the widely quoted, glass-is-half-empty report, by the Associated Press - based on government data. The report came out late last month and "lays bare the highly uneven prospects for holders of bachelor's degrees," says its author, AP writer Hope Yen.
About 1.5 million - 53.6 percent - of bachelor's degree-holders under age 25 last year were jobless or underemployed, the highest share in at least 11 years.
Broken down by occupation, young college graduates were "heavily represented in jobs that require a high school diploma or less." In the past year, they were more likely to be employed as waiters, waitresses, bartenders and food-service helpers than as all the engineers, physicists, chemists and mathematicians combined - 100,000 versus 90,000. There were more working in office-related jobs such as receptionists or payroll clerks than in all computer professional jobs - 163,000 versus 100,000. More also were employed as cashiers, retail clerks and customer representatives than engineers - 125,000 versus 80,000.
"While there's strong demand in science, education and health fields, arts and humanities flounder," Yen concluded.
The report goes on to say that median wages for those with new bachelor's degrees are down from 2000, hit by technological changes that are wiping out or reducing the number of mid-level jobs. "Most future job openings are projected to be in lower-skilled positions such as home-health aides...."
"According to government projections released in April, only three of the 30 occupations with the largest projected number of job openings by 2020 will require a bachelor's degree or higher to fill the position - teachers, college professors and accountants. Most job openings are in professions such as retail sales, fast food and trucking driving, jobs not easily replaced by computers," Yen wrote.
Harvard University economist Richard Freeman, interviewed for the report, said: "You can make more money on average if you go to college, but it's not true for everybody. If you're not sure what you're going to be doing, it probably bodes well to take some job, if you can get one, and get a sense first of what you want from college."
Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, told the AP that students and graduates face rising tuition costs and poor job outcomes.
"Simply put, we're failing kids coming out of college. We're going to need a lot better job growth and connections to the labor market, otherwise college debt will grow."
Already, student loan debt is at $1 trillion, surpassing credit-card debt. If unemployed or underemployed graduates start defaulting on that student loan debt, another national economic crisis would occur.
In the meantime, Congress is debating whether to raise the interest rate on government-guaranteed student loans. If that happens, a college education would be out of reach for many, which might not be a bad thing considering the economic climate. Vocational certifications from tech schools could be the better option, providing students with a specific skill.
The second report - the glass-is-half-full outlook - is by CareerBuilder.com, one of the nation's largest online employment sites. According to an online survey conducted in February with 2,303 hiring managers and human resources managers, graduates are stepping out into a job market better than in the previous three years.
More than half of employers - 54 percent - reported they plan to hire recent college graduates in 2012, up from 46 percent in 2010, and 43 percent in 2009.
"This is the first time since the recession that we're seeing a majority of employers planning to add recent college graduates to their employee roster," said Brent Rasmussen, president of CareerBuilder North America. "Companies across industries are placing a strong emphasis on recruiting fresh talent for technology-related roles and positions designed to drive revenue - and they're willing to pay more for high-skill, educated labor."
The college majors most in demand are business, 39 percent; computer and information sciences, 24 percent; engineering, 23 percent; math and statistics, 13 percent; health professions and related clinical sciences, 13 percent; communications technologies, 12 percent, and liberal arts and sciences, 9 percent.
I'm not going to send out any hollow, squishy-wishy graduation cards this season saying: "Believe." I'm not sure what graduates should or can believe at this juncture about their employment future.
Better to stick with cards echoing the commencement speech challenge comedian Jon Stewart made at his alma mater a few years back:
"Oops, we broke the world, now go out and fix it."
Original Print Headline: Pomp and circumstance
Julie DelCour, 918-581-8379