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Getting Through The Hard Times

Getting Through The Hard Times
Graduating seniors are confronting one of the tightest job markets in recent years. What are students doing to remain competitive?
By Ronald Roach

As a business administration major, Jermanne Perry, a graduating senior at Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio, recognized last year that the slumping U.S. economy showed little promise of turning around by spring 2003. By getting an early start on job hunting last September, Perry wanted to have the entire school year to search and interview for retail and financial management jobs.

“I knew people from last year’s graduating class who were still looking for a job last fall. I knew I had to start my job search early,” he says.

Fortunately for Perry, his efforts at sending out résumés and going to numerous interviews paid off this past April. After going to an informational meeting and making a presentation to a panel of recruiters, the Saginaw, Mich.-native secured an entry-level banking job offer from the Bank One corporation in Columbus, Ohio.

“I felt nervous and frustrated because I had been on so many interviews. I was doing a lot of searching,” says Perry, who will be graduating with his class this month.

This spring and summer graduating college seniors, such as Perry, are confronting one of the tightest job markets in recent years, according to experts. “The class of 2003 is having a more difficult job market than those graduating in previous years,” says Johnson Pennywell, director of career services at Prairie View A&M University in Prairie View, Texas.

Nationally, the unemployment rate for people between 20 and 24 jumped to 10.1 percent in April, up from 9.9 percent a year earlier and less than 7 percent in 2000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The jobless rate for the entire work force was 6 percent in April. According to a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), manufacturers have projected that they will be hiring 8.4 percent fewer new college graduates this year than they hired in 2001-2002. The government/nonprofit sector, a bright spot in 2002, has dimmed in 2003 with employers in this sector projecting a 7 percent hiring decrease.

Career counseling officials at a number of institutions are reporting decreases in the number of employer visits to their campuses. Sarah Stringer, director of career development and placement services at Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Ala., says that the total number of employers annually visiting the historic campus typically range between 400 and 600. “That’s been cut in half,” she says of the organizations and businesses sending representatives to the university.

“In years past, we’ve seen students in certain majors getting as many as 10 job offers. This year, that has not been the case,” Stringer explains, noting that Tuskegee draws a national constituency of employers largely from outside of Alabama.

The job market for graduating college students has been “quite poor,” says Marianne Green, the assistant director of the MBNA Career Services Center at the University of Delaware in Newark.

“The number of recruiters are down. The number of job possibilities is down. It’s been a general decline in opportunities for graduating students,” notes Green, who is the author of Majoring in Success, an academic and career success guide for college students.

Since 2000, recruiting visits by employers to the University of Delaware has fallen some 30 percent, according to Green, who estimates the graduating senior classes to average about 3,000 annually.

Dolores Dean, director of placement at Florida A&M University (FAMU) in Tallahassee, says there’s been a 15 percent to 20 percent decrease since 2001 in the number of employers making visits to the campus. FAMU has the distinction of graduating the largest number of Black undergraduates in the nation.

Dean reports that FAMU, like Tuskegee, draws a national base of employers, most of who come from organizations outside Florida. Mentioning that job recruiting at other Florida public universities has taken a deeper plunge than at FAMU, she says the school benefits considerably from having a national reputation as a producer of well-educated African Americans.

“Employers are drawn to us because of our status as an HBCU,” she says.

Working Hard to Get Work

Career counselors say one of the chief hazards to which graduating college seniors fall victim is failing to put forth the necessary effort to research and seek out job opportunities. With the class of 2003 having largely enrolled as freshmen during the fall of 1999 when the national economy was booming, many students believed they wouldn’t have to work too hard to find employment upon their graduation, according to observers.

In the late 1990s, students “had an easier time searching for jobs,” says Michelle Watson, a career counselor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

“The job search process was very easy. Today, it requires much more effort,” adds Watson, who has written about job search strategies for new college graduates.

“The aggressive job candidate seems to be doing okay,” Prairie View’s Pennywell says.

A number of career counselors say that students who have gotten internship and cooperative work experiences during their undergraduate years give themselves a competitive advantage over their classmates who have not taken advantage of such experiences.

Perry at Central State says he believes internships he had with State Farm Insurance and the Kroger grocery chain gave him an edge when he interviewed with Bank One representatives. “They said they liked the fact I had consumer retail experience,” Perry notes.

Students are being required to demonstrate greater flexibility as job seekers than was necessary a few years ago when the economy prospered. Pennywell says many of his school’s graduates in science and engineering are taking jobs in their fields but in nonprofit environments like local governments.

“I’ve had students in computer science and engineering tell me they’ve taken jobs in school districts and the federal government. Previously, they may have gone straight into corporations,” Pennywell says.

Graduating students “might have to consider alternative jobs within their fields,” says Marymount’s Watson.

Bright Spots

Career counselors at historically Black schools say that despite the economy’s downturn their graduates in the sciences, engineering, health care professions and education are doing quite well. They also say they have seen increases in the numbers of graduating seniors applying to and getting accepted into graduate school.

“Graduates at Central State are still finding success. A plus for us is that we’re a small institution and we can offer considerable resources to our students,” says Lesa Taylor-DeVond, director of career services at Central State.

One of the brightest spots for employment is in the teaching profession. Schools are reporting their education graduates are typically getting their pick of several job offers. A national teacher shortage has spurred school districts to widen their contacts among colleges and universities from which they recruit education school graduates.

“The teaching field is wide open. I get e-mails daily from out-of-state school districts looking for teachers,” Tuskegee’s Stringer says.

Nationally, approximately 2.2 million teachers will be needed in the next 10 years because of teacher attrition and retirement and increased student enrollment, according to a National Center for Education Statistics report. In high-poverty urban and rural districts alone, more than 700,000 new teachers will be needed in the next 10 years.

Both Stringer and Pennywell report seeing an increase in the number of social sciences and liberal arts majors seeking teaching jobs through alternative certification routes that states have established to bring in new graduates. In 1992, just eight states had alternative certification programs for new teachers; the current total is 46, according to Dr. C. Emily Feistritzer, president of the National Center for Education Information.

Christina Lane, a graduating senior at Central State, recently accepted a job offer to teach at a Dayton, Ohio, charter school for the coming fall. Lane came under consideration for the job after school officials obtained her name from a Central State graduate who joined the faculty just last year.

“It happened really fast. When I was informed about the job, I applied and interviewed for it, and got it,” she says.

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