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Prospects for college grads aren't what they used to be

By Maxine Shapiro, KERA 90.1 business commentator

Dallas, TX – Imagine four years ago, when you entered college with visions of stock options and six-figure paying jobs were dancing through your head. As your education progressed, your income hopes decreased. And today as you graduate, a simple interview would produce jubilation. I'm Maxine Shapiro with KERA Marketplace Midday.

This common scenario is felt throughout the campuses across the country. One student told the New York Times, "We definitely picked the wrong time to be graduating from college." Although I doubt if this graduate could control the timing, it's still the worst hiring slump in 20 years. A survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers proved corporations cut hiring of new graduates by 36% between 2001 and 2002. That should hold stable this year.

So, many students are staying on for graduate school. The Times reports, "The number of people taking the Graduate Record Exam, the standardized test for most doctoral and master's programs, rose to its highest level ever." That's a reversal of what we saw through much of the 90's. Applications to medical school increased this year for the first time in seven years. And apps for law schools are also up, 10% this year after a jump of 18% last year. I can see why. SMU told me they had a 98% placement of last year's law school graduates. 80% of their MBA graduates also found jobs immediately.

And probably some of the best news I've read in a long time, many students are opting to teach. Applications for Teach for America have tripled in the past two years. This program recruits college graduates to teach for two years in public schools in poor neighborhoods.

So as one reads the unemployment rate for people ages 20 - 24 rose over 10% last month, it's hard not to feel sympathy for the graduate. Oh, how I remember those growing pains. But keeping a sense of humor can help, says an SMU study. That's probably the best cure for any situation. For KERA Marketplace Midday, I'm Maxine Shapiro.


Marketplace Midday Reports air on KERA 90.1 Monday - Friday at 1:04 p.m.

Email Maxine Shapiro about this story.