Simmons grads buck trend, find jobs
Students across America are expressing their anger over crippling student loans and demoralizing job prospects at the Occupy protests that started on Wall Street a month ago. They are joined by veterans, union workers, and the unemployed, and their complaints are shared by thousands of students and graduates concerned about their financial future.
However, at institutions of higher learning like Simmons College, professors and administrators appear to be more confident than the student protestors that their graduates will find jobs.
While the unemployment rate for Americans between the ages of 16 and 24 was double the country's 9.1 percent average at 18.6 in July 2011, the number of unemployed holding a bachelor's degree was only 4.2 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
This 18.6 percent includes high school students looking for summer employment, those looking for part-time employment during college, as well as graduates from colleges and universities looking for permanent full-time jobs, and it is disturbingly high.
But the percentage of unemployed college graduates has actually gone down in the past year. In September 2010, the unemployment rate for bachelor's degree holders was 4.5 percent.
While the national rate is cause for concern, interviews with the Simmons Career Education Center, as well as the heads of the Education, Political Science and Psychology Departments, revealed less discouragement over job prospects for Simmons graduates than the national trends suggest.
The National Outlook
"The fact is, the number of people looking for a job creates downward pressure on new graduates," said Doug Eisenhart, associate director of employer relations in the Career Education Center. "On the flip side, bachelors graduates are fresh, can be obtained more cheaply and are more trainable."
This downward pressure has been the catalyst for a national panic about employment after graduation.
With more candidates in the job pool, finding a job has undoubtedly become more difficult, said Andrea Wolf, director of the Career Education Center.
"It's taking longer to find full-time employment," she said.
Gary Oakes, Director of the Masters in Arts in Teaching (MAT) program said he sees the same trend.
"Historically, I have been very comfortable saying that once you get your MAT, if you want a teaching job you will find one," he said. "I no longer say that. It wouldn't be fair or honest or accurate."
Although Simmons faculty and staff recognize that the national trend in unemployment is bleak and that students graduating in this climate face barriers that others haven't, factors are at play that may put Simmons graduates at an advantage, they say.
How Simmons Stacks Up
Every year, the Career Education Center surveys graduates one year after commencement to determine the status of their employment and post-graduate education. With a response rate of 57 percent, they found that 83 percent of the class of 2010 was employed or in a graduate program full-time. Some 14 percent were employed part-time, and only 3 percent were seeking employment. And 89 percent said that their employment was related or somewhat related to their majors.
These findings were relatively consistent across departments, said Eisenhart. Notably, the part-time employment percent went up three points in the past year.
"This is indicative of the reticence of employers to hire full-time employees," said Eisenhart.
In the context of a bad economy, he and Wolf said they feel that these numbers are encouraging. "We're right on par," said Wolf. "Simmons students should feel good, despite the economy."
The average starting salary for graduates of the class of 2010 is just under $41,000 per year, up almost $1,000 from 2009.
The Department of Education is in the midst of compiling its own data about graduates from the MAT program, but early results look promising for them as well.
Out of 20 initial responses, all but three graduates were currently holding a teaching position, said Oakes.
Rachel Galli, chair of the Psychology Department and adviser to psychobiology students said that it's taking longer than average, but "our majors have a lot of success getting jobs."
"Entry level jobs are out there," she said. "I tell students all the time, our graduates get jobs. It's a really stressful and challenging experience, but they have to get used to it."
Leanne Doherty, head of the Political Science and International Relations Department, chalks Simmons graduates' success amidst a downturned economy up to three things. "First it's the department, second it's the school, and third it's liberal arts," she said.
Within her department, the professor-student relationship is very close, she said. They foster their alumnae network and focus on experiential learning, something reflected in the College as a whole.
"It is very rare that I hear from someone who is desperate for employment," said Doherty.
However, Doherty recognizes that there are still barriers for graduates seeking employment.
"The assumption used to be that if you had a degree, you'd get a job. That is not the assumption anymore," she said. "There are fewer jobs. It's inevitable in a recession. It's the only barrier, but it's a big one."
Within political science and international relations, Doherty said that the outlook has remained positive because so many of the skills developed with a liberal arts degree, like critical analysis and writing, are applicable to more than one profession.
"The best part about a liberal arts degree is that you're qualified to do a lot of different things," she said.
Individual initiative also plays into employment success, she said. In her experience, students are using their education to the fullest to get a job.
"People get jobs before they even leave here," said Doherty. "Or they're creating positions [for Simmons graduates] that didn't exist before."
Be one of the 83 percent
Success in a job search is correlated to how early graduates start and how well they use their available resources, according to Wolf.
"Students who use the career office fair better on employment after graduation," said Wolf. "Senior year is almost too late...give yourself time to do the research, something a lot of students skip."
Wolf, Eisenhart, and Doherty all cited Simmons's emphasis on experiential learning as an explanation for the College's high employment rates.
"There is such an emphasis on experiential learning in the department that it bodes really well for students," said Doherty.
Often, graduates will get a job either from connections made in an internship, or at the location of the internship itself, she said.
"Students always needed to be proactive, but they need to make sure they articulate the value of their college education to an employer," said Wolf. "These experiential learning opportunities increase your marketability."
This view is corroborated by accounts employers give the Career Education Center about Simmons graduates.
"We consistently get feedback from employers that Simmons students are well prepared," said Wolf.
Galli said that the relationships that alumnae maintain with the College can help future graduates find a position.
"I have had alums send an email when they move on from a job asking if any Simmons students want to apply," she said.
Despite the fact that employers are pleased with Simmons graduates, and that the majority find work related to their major, Doherty, Wolf and Eisenhart still acknowledge that graduates aren't entirely pleased.
Some student feedback suggests that graduates have jobs, but they're not what they had expected or hoped to be.
"It's going to take them longer to find what they're looking for," said Eisenhart.
Doherty said she often hears from former students who ask how they can "switch gears" after taking a job that wasn't what they had intended.
"They want to do something else and they want to know how to get to that point," she said.
This is part one in a series of stories exploring the post-graduate world of Simmons College graduates.
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