Where do I go from here?

Ryan Loew

More graduates are discovering their degrees aren’t worth what they used to be

Future employees can sometimes feel like they’re just a dog in the window employers can simply browse over. Because so many people have college degrees now, it can be harder to find a job after graduation.

Credit: Andrew popik

Matt Rudawsky lives at his parents’ home outside Youngstown, where he has a job delivering and storing X-rays for hospitals.

He also graduated from Kent State last December with a bachelor’s degree in visual communication and design and is searching for a start to his career.

“It’s nice to have a bit of a break. This is the first time I haven’t been in school or working five days a week,” Rudawsky said. “But I’ll be needing money pretty soon.”

Rudawsky is one of many graduates who begin their post-college lives by returning home, working odd-jobs and pondering the worth of their degrees.

Worth what it used to be?

Sociology instructor Denzel Benson said more students enrolled in college has pushed the supply and demand for college graduates out-of-balance.

“It’s probably because the economy isn’t as strong now as it has been in some periods of 20th century history,” Benson said. “And there’s also more people with college degrees. There’s simply more people graduating from universities. Therefore, there’s a greater supply.”

Since 1970, the number of people who go to college has increased by 53 percent, according to Time magazine, creating a job market diluted with degree holders.

But four-year-degree holders are still making money.

“’The more you learn, the more you earn’ is still certainly a long-standing relationship,” President Carol Cartwright said.

In 2003, an Ohio graduate with a bachelor’s degree earned an average of $48,896, while a high school graduate earned $29,800, according to the Ohio Board of Regents. The average starting salary for Kent State graduates that year was $31,350.

Men and women with four years of college earn nearly 45 percent more than those with high school diplomas, according to a national report by the New York Times. This percentage is as high as it has ever been, but it has been stuck at the same rate since the late 1990s. The report also said, starting this decade, the gap in salaries between high school and college graduates is beginning to narrow.

Although the monetary future of the degree remains to be seen, the prestige of a four-year degree has certainly decreased, Benson said. The flux of degree seekers over the past decades has increased supply of college graduates, and consequently, there is a smaller demand among employers for educated workers.

Spencer Burgos, sophomore political science major, suggested that colleges raise acceptance standards, lowering the amount of students coming in and consequently the number of graduates going out.

“There’s a lot of colleges that just accept anyone,” Burgos said, “and I don’t think that’s fair. We waste, like, $80,000 for this certificate, and we’re not guaranteed a job. I don’t really feel secure in the future, even after graduating college.”

Sophomore advertising major Bridget Regan agreed. Both Burgos and Regan plan on graduating in Spring 2007.

“Before, it used to be that a college degree was coveted,” Regan said. “But now it’s like if you don’t have a Ph.D., you won’t get a job.

“It’s sad that in the technological age that we’re in now, you can start out with like $60,000 a year for a job like accounting, which you can technically go to a trade school to learn that. It brings down the value of a college degree. Why would high school grads have any desire to go to college?”

A four-year degree does guarantee some insurance of getting a job, according to the Ohio Board of Regents, as the unemployment rate for a high school graduate was 2.2 percent higher than that of a graduate with a bachelor’s degree in 2003.

And four-year college graduates earned about $20,000 more than high school graduates that year.

“If you ask employers, they’ll tell you this: It’s not what’s on your transcript,” said Dave Dalton, associate professor of education. “It’s that you have a transcript.”

Getting — and keeping — the job

Working in a career of choice has everything to do with a degree, and often “Just to get your foot in the door in the world of work, you need a college degree,” Cartwright said.

According to the university’s annual graduate survey, 97 percent of respondents from the class of 2001 said they were “actively making their career goals a reality,” 85 percent were employed and 12 percent were enrolled in graduate school. The survey did not state how many graduates responded.

In the past, Cartwright said, a high school diploma was the norm for young adults entering careers. But now, many college students have to find ways to stand out so as not to just be one of many “knocking at the door with a degree.”

The value of a college degree is that graduates have the ability to adapt to whatever bosses may throw their way, Dalton said.

“Most businesses have to train you to what your specific job is, but with a degree, they have a lot more confidence that you have the skills to do that job,” he said. “Employers want people who can respond to different situations and solve problems.

“In the field of education, there are some disciplines that are high in demand, and in some fields, graduates have to wait a year or two, substitute. And I think that’s a good microcosm of the economy right now.”

Finding a job is as difficult as a graduate makes it and is often influenced by willingness to relocate, said Timothy Bandi, a second semester graduate student and educational psychology major.

“It depends on where they look,” he said. “If they think a job is going to be given to them by sitting around, it’s not going to happen — unless of course, they have a rich mom or dad.”

Often the ability to get a job depends on willingness to move, something young people tend to do, Cartwright said.

“If you’re in Northeast Ohio and what you want to do happens in California and you don’t want to move, then you’ve got a problem,” she said.

Choosing a job may amount to how much it pays, Benson said, regardless of how much the job relates to a graduate’s career.

“I think there are other forces at work other than the supply and demand that is having a clear impact on students, and that has to do with student debt.” Benson said. “Students with high debt are taking any position as long as it pays very well, even if it means they might not like the job.”

College graduates will have to make five to seven “major career shifts” in their lifetimes, Dalton said, as compared to decades ago when young adults entered a manufacturing economy that allowed them to remain at the same job their entire lives.

“It’s the nature of the economy,” he said. “Now we’re in an information economy, where our main product is ideas, and ideas are constantly changing.”

Many students have enrolled in schools providing practical job experience. According to Time, vocational schools such as DeVry University and Strayer University, both with campuses nationwide, saw a boom in their enrollments — 48 percent from 1996 to 2000.

Ultimately, more students are getting college educations, and more are looking for employers.

Rudawsky said he has sent out resumes and been interviewed, but he has yet to get hired. He hopes to find something within a month or two.

“There’s always the want ads,” he said. “It’s a matter of being in the right place at the right time.”

Rudawsky may have all the right credentials, but so do many graduates. And for people like Rudawsky, the road to a career begins with a short stop at home.

Contact administration reporter Ryan Loew at [email protected].