As the Class of 2011 sets off for senior projects, students begin a new chapter of life. The post – high school level of independence is exciting, but brings with it responsibilities. Among them is a job. Unfortunately, unemployment rates for college students and graduates have spiked in the recession, forcing many to reevaluate their plans.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 7.4 percent of college graduates were unemployed in March, a sharp increase from 5.5 in 2005, and 4.4 in 2000. Grim figures are not limited to the United States. According to the International Labor Organization, in August of 2010, of the 620 million economically active 15-24 year olds around the world, only 540 million were employed; the highest unemployment rate ever for this group.
Gripping with the bleak job outlook, many students are choosing majors aimed at specific careers, like business, engineering, or technology. Newsweek reports that enrollment in liberal arts colleges has decreased by 50 percent since 1990, while enrollment in business programs is on the rise. Schools are cutting liberal arts majors in response. Education analyst Eric MacKnight writes, “Now it appears that if we want to turn our children into educated persons—literate readers and thinkers—we will have to do it before they graduate from high school, because after that they will simply be buying job skills.” Though sad for some, choosing a career-aimed major proves to significantly increase chances of a job in the recession. Yahoo Education reports that students with career-aimed majors earn salaries 10,000 – 15,000 dollars higher, on average, than those with liberal arts majors.
Others are enrolling in the army to escape unemployment. “We’ve seen probably a 50 to 75 percent increase in college graduates here in the past two to three years,” said Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Antolik in an interview with CBS. Though risky, military service is a legitimate job, and guarantees a steady source of income. The opportunity has proven enticing for many. According to USA Today, 99 percent of servicemen held college diplomas last year, up from 91 percent in 2006. “We teach the brightest and the best to join the United States Army andthey become successful,” says Antolik.
Some are questioning the connection people tend to draw between a college education and a job. “There are lots of people going to college who are ultimately studying things and skills that employers aren’t looking for,” says Neal McCluskey, an education analyst. “But public policy urges everyone to get a college degree on the super-simplified notion that getting that college degree makes you more sought after.”
Fortunately, unemployment rates are settling down. Rates peaked at 10.10 percent in 2009, declined to 9.40 in December of 2010, and to 8.8 in March of 2011. If this steady decline continues, the Class of 2011 should have much less to worry about.