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A shopper’s market; economy brightens job picture for professional school graduates

Economy brightens job picture for professional school graduates

For former U.S. Navy Lieutenant Chris Burke, the end of the Cold
War impressed upon him the very real possibility that a downsizing U.S.
military could limit his career advancement opportunities. Trained as a
nuclear engineer, Burke saw reductions in the Navy’s nuclear-powered
fleet as a risk he wanted to avoid.

In 1993, Burke gained admission to the University of Virginia (USA)
law school. The idea of combining engineering expertise with a legal
education convinced Burke, a 1985 U.S. Naval Academy graduate, that he
might have a bright future in patent law. After enrolling in law
school, however, he won admission to UVA’s business school and became a
joint JD-MBA candidate.

As graduation got closer during the spring of 1997, Burke had six
job offers — mostly in business and at least one legal opportunity.
Having developed a keener interest in business during graduate school,
he accepted a position as a management consultant with the A.T. Kearney
Company. His job requires him to use both his engineering and business

“It was definitely a buyer’s market, so to speak, in terms of there
being opportunities in the job market,” Burke says of the employment
offers he entertained while at UVA.

He believes that graduating into a prosperous economy with degrees
from professional schools increased his employment options.

“It so happens that my timing was pretty good. I graduated at a good time,” Burke says.

Burke is one of several thousand African Americans who, in recent
years, have graduated from U.S. professional schools to face a wide
array of job and career options. Indeed, prospects for all students
graduating from professional schools — law, business, pharmacy,
medical, dental, and others are undoubtedly strong due to a booming
national economy.

Deans and career counselors at professional schools with
significant minority student populations generally report that minority
graduates are faring well in securing postgraduate training and jobs.
They cite a booming economy as a factor, but also point out that demand
for young professionals from underrepresented communities is strong.

Legal Eagles Soar

Alice G. Bullock, dean of the Howard University Law School, Says 93
percent of the 1997 graduating class at her school had secured
employment and postgraduate positions within six months of graduation.
The national average law school placement rate six months after
graduation is 87 percent, according to Bullock.

Median salaries for 1997 Howard law school graduates going to work
in the private sector was $73,000. For those headed to public-sector
legal jobs, the median salary was $34,000.

“Recruiters look to Howard as an institution to fill their needs, particularly in respect to Blacks,” Bullock says.

“I’m very optimistic about job opportunities for our graduates,”
says Arthur Stallworth, vice chancellor of the Southern University Law
Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Stallworth says that students graduating from the state-supported
historically Black law school, which had an enrollment of 335 students
in 1997-98, are heavily recruited by law firms from around Louisiana
and the region. He adds that Southern University Law Center strives
hard to prepare its graduates to excel in all fields of law, but places
a special emphasis on preparing them for corporate legal work.

“I would have to say that we get students going into a good
cross-section of jobs in government, the private sector and public
interest fields,” Stallworth says. “We make sure they have the
necessary training to succeed in whatever specialty they choose.”

Firms started by Southern alumni have been recruiting at the law
school for a number of years, and now Stallworth is seeing graduates
return to the campus as recruiters for other law firms as well.

Bullock says the legal profession is thriving partly because it has
reengineered itself over the past ten years to better serve the needs
of the U.S. economy. One trend, she mentions, is the movement of
American lawyers into the international business arena. A great number
of lawyers and their law firms have gotten involved with facilitating
international business transactions, according to Bullock.

“The [legal] profession has taken advantage of the global economy.
Crossing borders used to be something that was left up to large
multinational law firms and corporations,” she says.

Bullock also notes that there has been strong growth in law firms
that have “boutique” specialties. Boutique law firms usually specialize
in a specific area of the law, such as transportation or

The rise of boutique law firms stands in stark contrast to the
demise of numerous mega-law firms that saw a brief heyday in the late
1980s and early 1990s. According to Bullock, the boutique firms have
become prevalent in fields that are driving the economy’s growth. She
cites communications as an industry where considerable economic
activity has fueled the growth of law firms that have communications
law practices.

Bullock says that while lawyers have gotten more savvy in serving
the business needs of a booming economy, low-income urban and rural
communities continue to be underserved by the American legal
profession. She says Howard law students, while highly sought by top
private firms and government agencies, are encouraged to devote some of
their time and expertise to helping underserved populations both in
school and after graduation.

Business Booming

In today’s economy, business school graduates, such as UVA alumnus
Burke, can expect to encounter little or no trouble at all securing

“When the economy is strong, the demand for MBAs is high,” says
Brian Bell, senior career management consultant at UVA’s Darden
Graduate School of Business Administration.

At graduation time, 96 percent of the students in the Darden class
of 1998 had obtained jobs, according to Bell, who says that
corporations are hiring employees with newly minted MBA degrees because
they can afford to do so. He says Darden’s 1998 graduates will be
earning between $75,000 and $100,000 in their first year out of
graduate school.

In good times, corporations regard employees with an MBA as a good
investment because they bring both pre-MBA work experience and
MBA-level business knowledge to the company, Bell says. In down times
such as the 1991 recession, however, companies believe they cannot
afford to pay new employees the higher entry-level salaries to which
people with the MBA degree have become accustomed.

“In slow periods, the MBA has less value,” Bell says.

The current hot areas for MBAs are in financial services,
management consulting, brand management, and marketing. Students
seeking international business opportunities are also finding an
abundance of jobs, according to Bell.

Healthy Professionals

The structural shift in American health care has profound implications for students in health professional programs.

Dr. Henry Moses, a dean at the Meharry Medical School in Nashville,
Tennessee, says that as health care organizations seek to cut patient
care costs, they will rely more and more upon primary care physicians
to treat patients. Relying less on highly trained and expensive
specialists is seen as a management imperative by cost-conscious
managed-care professionals, according to Moses.

Moses says Meharry physician graduates, most of whom seek to
specialize in primary care fields, are well-situated to eventually
obtain positions in managed care organizations. Training physicians to
become primary care doctors has long been a priority of historically
Black medical schools such as Meharry.

Additionally, an overwhelming number of Meharry physician graduates
have been successful at securing their first- and second-choice
residencies for postgraduate training.

“Ninety percent of [medical school] graduates got their first or second choice for a residency program,” Moses says.

And while Meharry’s dental school and Ph.D. students are doing well
securing postgraduate training, the school’s candidates in the public
health masters’ program are being heavily recruited by health care
maintenance organizations to become administrators.

“The market in health care administration has been very good,” Moses says.

Dr. Robert Thomas, associate dean at the Xavier University College
of Pharmacy in New Orleans, says virtually all of Xavier’s 1,998
pharmacy graduates — there are approximately 140 pharmacy doctoral
candidates a year — had jobs by graduation this past spring. The
college trains a quarter of the nation’s Black pharmacists.

Thomas estimates that pharmacists graduating from six-year doctoral
programs like Xavier’s earn between $50,000 and $60,000, on average, in
their first year. At Xavier, as at other institutions, pharmacy
students enter as college freshmen, complete two years of pre-pharmacy
studies, and spend the next four years earning their doctoral degree.

Job prospects for pharmacy students are generally high even in bad economic times.

“There’s never been an oversupply of pharmacists,” Thomas says.

COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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