Just how bad was it to graduate into the recession?

Graduates

Graduating Harvard University Law School students stand and wave gavels in celebration at commencement ceremonies June 5, 2008, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

College graduation is supposed to be the start of something big. For millions of students who graduated in the middle of the Great Recession, it was a big disappointment.

The Department of Education has been tracking members of the class of 2008, who graduated right at the start of the financial crisis.

And today the  government delivered some new data on those 1.4 million grads.

The big takeaway is that, by 2012, more than 80 percent of them had  had jobs. 

“It’s taken a few years, but their employment numbers have gotten better,” says Ted Socha, a mathematical statistician with the National Center for Education Statistics, who ran the study.

Megan Nicklaus, who runs the career center at Colorado College, remembers those years well.

“Students were having to reevaluate and say, ‘Okay, what kind of intermediate step might I be able to take that will still set me up for when the market bounces.’”

On average, graduates of the class of 2008 have had a couple jobs. Sixteen percent of them have had three.  But unemployment is creeping up, and many recession grads report not being able to find enough hours at work.

Scott Hoberg was a senior at Fordham University, thinking about law school, when the recession set in. 

“It was sort of playing out in the background,” he remembers.

Today, Hoberg is an attorney in Cincinnati. His friends from Fordham? “Many of them haven’t found exactly their dream jobs, and certainly not jobs they’re using their degrees for.”

There are, we learned today, certain degrees were almost recession-proof: nursing and science, to name two.

Alex Wernli graduated from Iowa State University in 2008.

 "When I started school, I gave absolutely no thought to getting a job,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to be an engineer, and it’s kind of what I wanted to do.”

 Students who studied science, technology, engineering and math spent a lot less time looking for work.

 Werli had a job lined up before he graduated. They also made a lot more money out of the gate: $65,000 on average.

 “This was the lucky class,” says Tony Carnevale, who runs the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University. “They came in under the wire.”

Phoebe Berke graduated one year later, with an English degree from San Francisco State University.

“It almost did feel like we got a pretty raw deal, graduating in 2009, like right after everything had kind of fallen apart,” she says.

 Berke says she did odd jobs, and she tutored.

 “Finally, in 2012, I got my first ‘real job,’ my first nine-to-five job, and I was really excited about that because it felt like I had finally gotten over the hump.”

About the author

David Gura is a reporter for Marketplace, based in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...