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An Evolving Job Market for Graduates: Preparing Students for Success

September 15, 2015

College and university leaders, faculty and staff can all play an important role in post-graduation student success.

Economic conditions have improved since the Great Recession officially ended in the middle of 2009. Yet in 2014, CNN Money reported that most Americans thought economic conditions remained poor because the recovery has been the slowest on record. “Wages are barely rising, home prices are still below their peak and more Americans are using food stamps than ever before,” CNN Money said.

For many college students, the future is mixed with feelings of anxiety and stress. Although the unemployment rate for young college graduates has subsided since its peak in 2010, there hasn’t been a full rebound yet. When students consider paying back loans and taking care of other responsibilities, they can struggle to come up with a plan.

College and university leaders, faculty and staff can all play an important role in post-graduation student success by providing the necessary tools and knowledge. By nurturing relationships and acknowledging opportunities for career growth, higher education professionals can prepare students to navigate the journey ahead.

Employment Prospects for College Graduates

Positive IndicatorsUnemployment levels for college graduates

It’s reasonable to view the current economic climate with optimism. The Boston Globe reports that state and national unemployment rates have fallen to 4.8 and 5.4 percent respectively — the lowest levels since the early days of the recession. Unemployment levels for 20- to 24-year-olds with college degrees have fallen to about 7 percent, their lowest levels since the first full year of the recession in 2008.

Job competition may be improving as well. Paul Harrington, director of the Center for Labor Markets and Policy at Drexel University in Philadelphia, told the Globe that seven unemployed workers in 2009 competed for each job opening, compared to about 1.5 workers in 2015. Also, in a survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers, employers anticipated hiring 9.6 percent more new graduates in 2015 than they did from the Class of 2014.

Negative Indicators

Others stats suggest that college graduates should remain more cautious. According to a 2015 survey from AfterCollege, a San Francisco-based service that helps college students and graduates connect with employers, 14 percent of graduating college seniors and 13 percent of graduate students had employment lined up. Only 30 percent of recent graduates had a job in place.

Newsweek reports that a disproportionate number of millennials — who make up approximately 40 percent of the unemployed in the United States — are struggling to find employment. Generation Opportunity, a conservative nonprofit that advocates for millennials, releases a monthly “Millennial Jobs Report” based on official labor data and unemployment rates for younger workers. Data from May 2015 showed that 13.8 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds are out of work, down from 14.2 percent in January and 15.4 percent at the same time last year. “The trend is encouraging, but the number is still way above the national jobless rate of 5.4 percent,” the Newsweek story said.

The underemployment rate for young college graduates is 14.9%. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the current unemployment rate for young college graduates is 7.2 percent and the underemployment rate is 14.9 percent. In 2007, those rates were 5.5 percent and 9.6 percent. Additionally, newly graduated college seniors can expect lower entry-level wages than 15 years ago. Young male college graduates are the only group that has higher wages than in 2000, but it’s just a 1 percent increase. On the other hand, young female college graduates have wages 4.4 percent lower than in 2000.

How Students Can Prepare for Success


According to author and journalist Dan Kadlec of Time, today’s college graduates may be too optimistic about their career expectations. However, many are taking the steps to prepare for the future.

Kadlec reports that 82 percent of students from the Class of 2015 considered the availability of jobs in their field before choosing a major, a 7 percent increase from 2014. Additionally, a higher number of students took advantage of internships. More than half of students who were involved in an internship said that it led to a job.

Students are also taking finances more seriously. Kadlec mentions that more students from the Class of 2015 started at a community college. Also, many have a fallback plan. Approximately half of new graduates expect to return home and be financially dependent on their parents for two years after graduation.

Alan Reisinger, metro market manager for Accountemps in Cleveland, told The Plain Dealer about the importance of getting an internship. “It shows some drive and commitment to a career that many employers are seeking,” Reisinger said. Along with online and offline networking opportunities, internships can help graduates maximize their chances of landing a job.


Recent graduates should look for help. “You don’t have to do your job search by yourself,” Reisinger said. From college career centers and alumni organizations to mentorship opportunities, graduates can make use of available support for career development.Student success requires picking a field with projected career growth and choosing a well-priced institution, among other considerations.

College staff members and administrators can be a pivotal resource for students. Not only can they help students and graduates find employment opportunities, but they can help mentor students and assist in building a career-oriented environment. In the AfterCollege survey, “faculty/teachers” ranked second on the list of people who have the most influence on job seekers’ career decisions, while “university career centers” ranked fifth.

Administrators and other staff at a student’s college can help increase post-graduation student success. This includes assistance with networking, financial counseling, job search strategies such as interviewing and resume building, and much more. Administrators and staff members can also help students make important decisions about their degree and the benefits of any further education, which is one of the most important considerations.

Opportunities for Higher Education Leaders

Skilled higher education administrators are needed to help students reach their potential in an uncertain job market. With Grace College’s exclusively online Master of Science in Higher Education degree, professionals can gain the knowledge and skills to make a difference in students’ lives. This Christ-centered program is ideal for those looking to work for faith-based colleges and universities.