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Economy still presents tough challenges for many new graduates

July 13, 2013|By ARNOLD S. PLATOU | arnoldp@herald-mail.com
  • Gretchen Schoeck, a 2008 graduate of North Hagerstown High School and a 2012 graduate of Bucknell University, is the marketing research specialist for Hershey (Pa.) Entertainment and Resorts. She interned with the Hershey Co. while she was in college.
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Soon after graduating from different Tri-State-area high schools in 2008 and going off to different colleges, Gretchen Schoeck and Chris Brown began getting the same vibes.

“I had conversations with my college classmates when we’d be talking about whether we’d be able to find a job when we graduated. The feeling definitely was nervousness,” said Brown, who graduated from Waynesboro (Pa.) Area Senior High School and, in May 2012, from Washington College in Chestertown, Md.

“I heard a lot from my older brother and sister about their (college) classmates graduating and struggling — trying to get a job during one of the toughest times,” said Schoeck, who graduated from North Hagerstown High School and, in May 2012, from Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa.

Like many other recent college graduates across the nation, Schoeck, Brown and others interviewed for this story have been entering the job market during one of its worst periods in decades. The 2007-09 recession sent jobless rates soaring, and while they have improved to some extent, the economic recovery since 2010 has been slow and uncertain.

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Nationwide in June, about 195,000 jobs were added, a more robust showing than economists had expected, as employment grew in many types of businesses. But 322,000 more Americans — including those who are working part time but want full-time jobs, were said to be underemployed, increasing their ranks to 8.2 million.

As the picture shifts, it’s difficult to gauge how all of this is affecting recent college graduates in the job market.

Last fall, it looked as though the scene was about to brighten. A survey released then by the National Association of Colleges and Employers reported that companies expected to hire 13 percent more graduates from the Class of 2013 than they did from the Class of 2012.

But in April, the association lowered the projection. Its most recent survey showed employers planned to hire just 2 percent more of the new graduates.

A report at the same time from the Economic Policy Institute saw little sunshine, either.

“For the fifth consecutive year, new graduates will enter a profoundly weak labor market and will face high unemployment and underemployment rates and depressed wages,” said EPI, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research and analysis organization in Washington, D.C.

EPI said 8.8 percent of recent college graduates didn’t have jobs yet, compared to 5.7 percent in 2007, when the recession began. And, EPI said, 18.3 percent of the recent graduates were underemployed, compared to 9.9 percent in 2007.

The authors of the report couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday or Friday.

Suzanne Shipley, president of Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, W.Va., said last week that the economy still presents tough challenges for many new graduates.

Shipley said it’s difficult to determine how many of the nearly 700 students Shepherd graduated in May have found jobs in their degree fields. But it looks as though “it sort of depends what (career) sector you’re going into,” she said.

“Our nurses are getting hired left and right. Teachers are getting hired well. It’s the more ambiguous (degree) field that is harder. Students (with degrees) in the humanities, it’s a little bit harder,” Shipley said.

Since the recession began, Shepherd has been “increasing our focus on career readiness” for all of its students, regardless of degree area, she said.

“We’ve added a capstone career emphasis in every career major,” Shipley said. “We’ve also added a course in writing, so if you’re in nursing, we’re finding that communication is absolutely key. If you’re in a job situation and you’re in competition for a position, how you present yourself is absolutely key.”

Similarly, in Shepherd’s sciences programs now, “every single student has to stand up and give a PowerPoint ... all the music majors have recitals, all the art students have juried presentations,” she said.

The college was doing some of this before the recession, but “we have been working harder at it in the past five years. The fact that we have small class size and higher-engaged faculty helps,” she said. “We understand it’s a tougher (jobs) environment.”

Accepting the challenge

Schoeck, 23, majored in consumer behavior with a focus on marketing and psychology at Bucknell. She said she was aware while in college that the economy was unraveling.

Not only did she hear about it from her older sister, Leslie, and older brother, Vincent, who graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 2008 and 2009, respectively, but she heard about it at home, Gretchen Schoeck said.

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