New student enrollment in graduate schools dropped slightly in 2010, according to a new report. It’s the most recent in a string of indications that college students face a changed world upon completing undergraduate study, regardless of whether they plan to continue their education or enter the job market.
The statistic released Thursday by the Council of Graduate Schools is a switch in the historic trend of rising graduate school enrollment during bad economic times, as students chose continued education over a challenging job search.
Jeffery Gibeling, Dean of Graduate Studies at University of California, Davis said it’s hard to extract broad meaning from a one-year downturn because multiple factors play into graduate school enrollment. Gibeling, who is a past CGS board chair, said his first thought on the numbers is that people are unable or unwilling to afford graduate school given the economy.
Bottom line: This is a hard economy for graduates to find entry-level work.
The best hope for a student is to be among the one in five graduates who find a career job, according to Herman Schwartz, a professor in the politics department at the University of Virginia, but the best hope for the overall economy is that those employment odds get better than one in five.
Those students left looking for career work end up delaying their next life stage by three to four years, Schwartz said. That delay ripples through the rest of the economy where the chief hindrance is lack of demand.
That sluggish demand translates to decreased confidence across the economy but especially for students coming out of school with debt to live at home and work low paying jobs.
Being unemployed, underemployed or working a dead end job in these uncertain times turns a student’s lifetime earnings into something less than the early earnings of students who enter a good economy, Schwartz said.
As students weigh their options in this economy, Gibeling said graduate deans across the country have seen a number of reports calling for additional highly skilled employees and innovators. He said even in a down economy people with advanced degrees have a higher earning capacity and lower unemployment, something he thinks continues to be true.
“When innovation stagnates, the whole economy stagnates,” Gibeling said.
For students looking to immediately enter the job market after their undergraduate work, networking is still the key, according to Vic Snyder, the associate director of counseling at the University of Washington.
“The students we see are either more scared or they’re more motivated,” Snyder said.
Snyder said he’s seeing more students in the career center, where he encourages them to network both online and face-to-face, especially through activity in professional organizations.
He said students are more concerned and are looking at their education as more than just something they’ll enjoy, but also something that will help them in the outside world.
At the UW, Snyder said one of the most popular career workshops is “Networking for Shy People.” He said students who work on their networking skills and get some scripting don’t feel as scared when it comes to making connections in the job market and that preparation is critical to starting that process.
“It’s not something that happens over night,” he said of networking.
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