Emory students look to the uncertain future

Kai stands with students from Emory University in Atlanta, Ga. From left, Margaret Spear, Dasha Kirillova, Reggie Extra and Ali Jooma

Kai Ryssdal: Full disclosure, this isn't the first time I've been to Atlanta. I went to school here, as I told Mayor Reed. Emory University.

Ryssdal: So it is kind of a pretty place. You have to like these buildings with the red tile roofs and stuff, a lot of white marble, white Georgia marble.

So when he said this city has the second most educated population on the East Coast after Boston, it gave us an idea.

Ryssdal: Yeah, there is so much here that's new. This is crazy. Anthropology?

This year's graduating seniors started college literally weeks before Lehman Brothers went under and the financial crisis and the last presidential election.

Ryssdal: All right, so here's the quad. Boom. Done. Looks pretty much the same -- trees, buildings.

So yesterday morning we went out to the student center at Emory to talk to some soon-to-be graduates about four years spent studying alongside a lousy economy.

Ali Jooma: My name is Ali Jooma. I 'm a senior here at Goizueta Business School. I am 21 and I'm majoring in marketing and operations.

Margaret Spear: I'm Margaret Spear, 21, and a sociology major.

Reginald Extra: I'm Reginald Extra. I'm 22 years old, studying computer science with a minor in applied math.

Dasha Kirillova: Hi, my name is Dasha Kirillova. I'm 23 and I'm double majoring in journalism and Russian literature.

Ryssdal: Reggie, you have the only major that's going to get you a job next year, right?

Extra: I have a job lined up.

Ryssdal: Tell me about it.

Extra: I've accepted a position with JPMorgan Chase as a technology analyst in their corporate technology development program.

Ryssdal: Ali, tell me what you're going to be doing after graduation, which is soon man.

Jooma: It's really soon. It's in a few months. I'll be starting in July with Delta Air Lines as a strategy analyst.

Ryssdal: Dasha, what about you?

Kirillova: I don't know yet. I'm still trying to figure that out.

Ryssdal: Does it bother you that you don't know yet.

Kirillova: A little bit. It's a little scary, especially considering the economy is still recovering. I think it's doing a little better, so I'm more optimistic than I was even two years ago, a year ago, six months ago even.

Ryssdal: Reggie, when you decided what you wanted to major in were you thinking, 'Man, I need to do this to be able to get a job when I get out of here.'

Extra: Yeah, honestly. I kind of had a game plan. I'm pre-engineering as well.

Ryssdal: With no engineering department last time I checked?

Extra: Exactly. No engineering department.

Ryssdal: Yeah. It's kind of a problem, I don't know. Maybe that's just me.

Extra: No engineering department, not the greatest computer science department. But I knew with the technical skills that I would learn along with my personal/interpersonal skills that if I lined it up correctly, if I played the field, I could kind of get a job 'cause I definitely, going back home wasn't an option for me.

Ryssdal: So Margaret, let me follow up on that and say, when you were a sophomore -- two years ago when you were a sophomore -- did you have friends who were seniors who were graduating and moving back in with mom and dad?

Spear: I did. That was a little scary to see. You kind of look at the seniors who are graduating when you're younger as an example of what you'll be going through, so a lot of seniors were having a little bit of difficulty finding jobs. I think it just made everyone that noticed that a little bit more proactive about finding internships and finding something that would give you that experience to make you more marketable to different jobs.

Ryssdal: You know that thing that college students used to do, they'd take a year off and go backpacking through Europe or whatever it is... you're laughing. Is that something that still happens? I mean, is that an option for you guys in this economy nowadays?

Kirillova: I would love to do that, but no, it's not an option. I would love to do that.

Ryssdal: All right. Show of hands here everybody. Yeah.

Jooma: I have very few friends who are doing that. I've seen some people who do take that option, but I know that for us, I think that for us it's a consensus -- it's not an option right now. Not at this point. Maybe after an MBA or whatever, we go to graduate school, maybe then it might be an option if you don't have like a family and stuff to worry about then.

Ryssdal: Yeah, but then you get bogged down with the kids and the dog and the mortgage and all that stuff. Believe me. It all goes downhill from there. Margaret, do I have it right that you were not always a sociology major?

Spear: That's true. Yeah, I started as a business major.

Ryssdal: You were at one point sitting in econ 101 your freshman year?

Spear: I was.

Ryssdal: Let's set the stage: Lehman Brothers is going broke, Ben Bernanke is saying the world economy is going to collapse, and you're in econ 101 as a college freshman.

Spear: Right. Well, I started in econ 101 before any of it started and then by parent's weekend, my professor was giving a talk to all of the parents that were coming to visit about what was going on to kind of clarify. So I don't know. It was a little bit of a weird experience. I didn't really, it wasn't really hitting home that it would affect me as much as it does.

Ryssdal: Hitting home right now, I bet?

Spear: Yeah, a little bit.

Ryssdal: Ali, freshman year, financial crisis starting, presidential election happening -- were you aware of any of that or were you just sort of, you know what, this is going to be fixed before I'm done.

Jooma: I'll be honest. It was more of the latter.

Ryssdal: Yeah, it was going to be fixed.

Jooma: It was hopefully going to be fixed. My primary focus was these next four years and what I can do to make myself the best applicant coming out of it. But not too much worry, to be honest 'cause I wasn't as aware.

Ryssdal: Who here was old enough to vote in the last presidential election. Margaret, you did?

Spear: I did.

Ryssdal: Yeah?

Spear: Yeah, absentee ballot.

Ryssdal: Well, 'cause you're living absentee. Were you paying attention then, in the fall of 2008?

Spear: I'd like to think I was, but you're in a different standpoint. Now I'm going into the job market. Before I was just looking forward to four years of college.

Ryssdal: So how much do you think this election matters, then?

Spear: I kind of view it as a turning point election. We have a lot of things that aren't ideal in the country right now, along with things that are going pretty well that should maybe stay how they are. So it kind of worries me that some students aren't taking it as seriously as they should be because this will affect them more than they realize -- especially if they're not seniors, they're not looking to the job market right now.

Ryssdal: Reggie, what about you? What can the government do to fix this economy, if anything? Should the government fix the economy?

Extra: The government can help to fix the economy, but I think the burden comes down on the people. You can't actively rely on the government to find you a job. I know that may sound off, but it's a two-sided playing field. They have to do their part and we have to do our part as well.

Here's what hit me after a morning spent with college seniors. Whatever happened to college being all about learning to be an adult, instead of worrying all four years about what job you were gonna get?

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

Kai stands with students from Emory University in Atlanta, Ga. From left, Margaret Spear, Dasha Kirillova, Reggie Extra and Ali Jooma

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This is wonderful. I found this page while talking to a friend I made at Emory. We are both unemployed right now, though I at least have made it into a graduate program... after 2 years. I spent that much time trying to succeed without it. Well, I don't want to make $8/hr anymore. I'm probably just incurring more debt for nothing, but maybe not. Maybe grad school will be different.

You never know.

I thought you were supposed to be an adult by the time you went to college. Most people who go to college are at least 18 years old. At the age of 18, you should be an adult. Therefore, most people who go to college should already be adults.

If you come from a family that is very well off and they consent to pay for you to have the experience, go ahead and use college as an opportunity to broaden your horizons or to find yourself. But if you're not a fortunate son in that way, you want college to provide you with an increase in earning power that offers payback for the investment. And there should certainly be a payback plan if you're taking student loans.

We can't succeed as a nation where people have every reason to put off being an adult as long as possible.

Dear Kai,

Your lasting memory of Emory University is the distinctive red-tile rooves and white marble. My distinctive memory of the Naval Academy is the blue-green patina of the cooper rooves and the gray limestone-granite walls. My first time seeing it was from the air as my flight passed over the campus on the way to the airport at Baltimore, where I would get my bus to Annapolis.

Learning to take care of yourself, including learning to support yourself, is part of learning to be an adult.

"Whatever happened to college being all about learning to be an adult, instead of worrying all four years about what job you were gonna get?"

Uhhhmmm...my time in engineering school at Purdue was all about getting a job. Most of my peers seeking technical degrees were thinking about getting jobs, too. This was the late 80s.

good idea for an interview, Kai. but you are off on your last comment. college should be all about what job you are gonna get. as usual, government (social funding) in higher education has led it to eccentric study requirements and majors which only job qualifying application is to teach other students the same subject. a higher education is extremely important in developing the intellect, thinking and living in modern society in addition to getting a job and performing it. but when education systems make esoteric knowledge focus an objective to meet cultural diversity, students are deceived, unemployment and underemployment results. but damn, gotta keep teacher unions employed and growing state funded universities on the public tit. for aren't these more important objectives than directing maturing humans into individual and family capable people in modern society?

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