Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Excerpts from "Chasing the American Dream: Recent College Graduates and the Great Recession"

How are recent graduates faring in the workplace in current economic conditions? How can we better help students in their transition from college to careers?  Some answers are suggested by the Work Trends report, “Chasing the American Dream: Recent Graduates and the Great Recession” by Charley Stone, Carl Van Horn and Cliff Zukin of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development of Rutgers University.  Their research is based on a nationally representative sample of 444 college graduates from 2006-2011.

Of the students in this sample, 51% were employed full time with a median pre-recession (2006-2007) starting salary of $30,000 and a recession (2009-2011) salary of $27,000. It is noteworthy to compare these starting figures with the average student loan debt of around $30,000 for these students.  About 57% of recession graduates receive financial help from parents or other family members and nearly one third have moved back home or receive help with housing, partly to pay off student debt.  It is significant that 58% of these students believe that the American dream of upward mobility has stopped with their generation. 

Students were asked, “Thinking back to college, is there anything you would have done differently to be successful today?”  Here is a summary of some interesting data useful to college educators and students:

·         37% would have been more careful about selecting their major or chosen a          different career.  
·         29% would have done more internships or worked part time.
·         24% would have started looking for work much sooner while still in college.
·         20% would have taken more classes to prepare for a career.
·         14% would have gone to a different college.
·         3% would not have gone to college.
The above answers show a need for more career guidance and careful consideration in choosing a major.  Those who said that they would have been more careful in making a decision about a major were asked what they would have done differently with the benefit of hindsight.  Here is what they said:

·         41% would have gone into a professional major (communications, education,
social work.)
·         29% would have gone into a STEM major (science, technology, engineering, or         math.)
·         56% said they should have taken more computer and technology courses.
·         36% regretted not taking more business/finance courses.
·         36% regretted not taking more quantitative skills courses.
For educators, the report reinforces the need for career guidance early in college in order to help students prepare for the world of work after graduation.
For students, it is important to begin thinking about careers at the beginning of college rather than waiting until after graduation.  Students can begin the process as soon as they start college by exploring their personal strengths and how they match the world of work.  Gaining skills in mathematics, science and technology can enhance career prospects as well as salary.  Students can also benefit from part time work and internships while in college. Early career planning can help students make a successful transition from college to careers.