College graduates underemployed and up in the air, study finds

Published: Thursday, May 10 2012 4:31 p.m. MDT

Convocation at the graduation ceremonies at the Huntsman Center at the University of Utah Friday, May 4, 2012

Brian Nicholson, Deseret News

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Five years after school, many college graduates are underemployed, questioning their preparation and even depending on support from their parents, a Rutgers University study finds. Not surprisingly, thing are worse than before the recession.

The study surveyed 444 college graduates who graduated between 2006 and 2011, allowing comparisons between those who finished school before the recession hit.

The survey reflects some disillusionment and frustration. Just 50 percent of recent graduates have full-time jobs, while another 25 percent are working part time and 20 percent are attending graduate school.

About a quarter of those surveyed say they are working below their level of education, are working outside their area of training or and/or are earning "a lot" less than they expected to be.

Most students report little or no progress paying off their student loans, and those earning less than $30,000 per year reported an average student debt of $30,000. About 40 percent reported delaying a major purchase such as a car or home to service their student debt, while 27 percent moved in with family members to save money. Sizeable percentages also reported receiving financial support from family, including food, phone bills, car payments and college loan payments.

Surveyed graduates also appear to be less than satisfied with their education, with half of them believing that they are less prepared than earlier generations.

The survey found an interesting result on internships, as 65 percent who completed an internship in college felt they were well prepared, while only 44 percent of those who did not do so agreed.

If do-overs were possible, 37 percent would choose a different major, while 29 percent would have done additional internships, 24 percent would have started looking for work earlier, while still in college, and 20 percent would have taken harder classes to prepare.

Of those who would switch majors, 41 percent said they would have chosen a professional major, 29 percent said they would have gone into a technical field such as math or science.

While internships are receiving increasing attention in a tough economy, not everyone is sanguine about them, and clearly not all are equal. An article by Steven Greenhouse in the New York Times last week spoke to the risks of exploitation and stagnation student interns face.

"Although many internships provide valuable experience," Greenhouse noted, "some unpaid interns complain that they do menial work and learn little, raising questions about whether these positions violate federal rules governing such programs."

Eric Schulzke writes on national politics for the Deseret News. He can be contacted at eschulzke@desnews.com.

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