Wednesday, February 25, 2009

College Graduates Weigh Options in Current Economy

by Drew Schaar

In this challenging state of the economy, college students graduating from universities face a tough situation when they graduate this spring: the job market is suffering. That has many soon-to-be college graduates weighing their options post-graduation. Some may find it hard to find a job while others are entering booming industries. Some grads will be heading to graduate school. Education and the economy are closely related. Adults recently laid off or out of a job are turning to education as well. They are hoping to further their education and sharpen their skills, gaining an edge in the job market.

Marsha Ham is the Executive Director of Lifelong and Distance Learning at Ohio University. She says her office offers many online classes to further education. The Lifelong Learning program mainly appeals to those who have been out of school for a while and want to pursue higher education options. "The audience is the adults who have been working for three to five years who feel they need to go back and upgrade their skills or complete their masters program," Ham says, "it essentially helps them make a career change or to move up in their current field."

Marsha Ham talks about further education options online

The online bachelors and graduate programs mostly appeal to non-traditional students. It is an easier format than attending normal on-campus classes. Ham says it offers more flexibility for those who must work and go to school at the same time. That way, they are able to finance their education while they are going through school. In the end, they come out with their degree.

Ham says they developed the program before the economy went sour. "What's happening with the economy is helping people who need to make changes and those sorts of things. We haven't actually seen people who have lost their jobs as this point. What we've seen is people asking about the financial aid available," Ham says. She sees more of the people wanting to move ahead in their field or wanting to change their career taking advantage of the online classes.

There is an upside to the failing economy, though. Ham says, "We see that education tends to be counter-cyclical. People who lose jobs, they take that opportunity to go back to school and finish that degree they never finished." She expects to see a rise in the number of students next fall between the ages of 30 and 45 years old who have lost their jobs. Ham says, "I think they'll be a lag time. The layoffs just started at the end of the year, and when people think about going back to school, they typically think about it in the fall."

Going back to school to get a higher degree or improve skills is what the Lifelong Learning services are about.

Ham says, "They're hoping that they can avoid the potential to be laid off because they're becoming more valuable to their employer." She adds, "People find themselves saying if I get more skills and get more credentials, it will be more valuable when the economy improves."

Students graduating this spring do have a few options. Ohio University Career services says jobs are out there, it will just take a little more work to find them this year. Brittany Buxton is the Interim Assistant Director of Career Services. She says they do have a lot of students coming into the office who are considering grad school. Graduate school is not only a backup for students, but many are delaying the job search to further their education, making them more marketable to employers. Buxton says it is all about keeping your options open. "If it will make you more competitive, and in some cases it will, I think it is a good thing to do," says Buxton, "it is a good way to be proactive."

"There's been a definite downturn in the number of job availabilities. It depends a lot on the field. Some are going to grow regardless [of the economy]," Buxton says, "I don't think [finding a job] will be harder, we just might have to be more creative." Career Services is on the fifth floor of Baker Center and they offer all types of services to students. They encourage students to stop in for a mock interview, resume critique, career search and the like. And Buxton doesn't want students to get down and give up. She says some are submitting to the situation and remaining lethargic. She says they won't get jobs acting like that. "The outlook is still positive, but it is going to take a lot of effort and time. It is not going to be easy as it once was."

Katie Buxton gives her insight on the job market

At Ohio University's graduate school, applications for the fall of 2009 are down about 300 from last year at this time, according to Ohio University Office of Institutional Research. But, Ohio University has seen an increase in the number of applications over the last three to four years. This year's applications are still higher than the amounts in 2005 and 2006.

As the economy worsens and students consider grad school, the thought of the added cost comes to mind. Many students believe the added investment in education will pay off in the long run with added career options, benefits and higher salaries.

Ohio University hosted its "Graduation Fair" this week offering all sorts of resources to graduating seniors at OU. Rebeckah Clark is Senior Geography & Environmental Studies major who attended the fair on Tuesday. "I’m terribly nervous about the economy. I know everyone is freaking out and about finding a job,” Clark said, “I think having environmental studies is an up and coming field that a lot of money is going to be pumped into, especially with the new administration so I’m hoping to get some government funding.” Clarks adds, “I feel really comfortable with my resumes because [career services] have helped me work through it. It’s something that I can be really proud to send out.”

There are still jobs available. Many companies are willing to hire recent graduates with some internship or professional experience. Those new to the workplace are hard working and willing to prove themselves, something long-time employees have outgrown. Take advantage of the resources offered, work hard on hunting and applying for jobs, or consider graduate school. Buxton says there are options; it is not the end of the world.

Check out the National Association of Colleges and Employers website for valuable information.

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