The Real Economy

Nevada grads worry about their futures

Sarah Gardner Feb 2, 2012

Tess Vigeland: A strong case could be made that the Silver State suffered the greatest damage from the Great Recession. Nevada is at the top of all the wrong lists — unemployment, foreclosures, state budget shortfalls.

And so it is where we launch coverage from our new Wealth and Poverty Desk, as part of our election reporting. The desk will explore how our economy affects people at all levels.

Today, we bring you the voices of college seniors in Nevada. They’ve survived university funding cuts and tuition increases and now they’re getting ready to graduate into a job market that is unpromising, to say the least.

Here’s Marketplace’s Sarah Gardner.

Sarah Gardner: You know that image of the coddled American college student? Bubbled-wrapped from the harsh realities of the work world? Hard to find in Nevada.

Sara Saenz: I work actually at the Caesar’s Palace. I sell tickets to shows at the Colosseum.

That’s one of student Sara Saenz’s part-time jobs.

Saenz: It was a receptionist’s job at an Alzheimer’s day care. I did give that up because I started working on campus as well.

Saenz was typical of the seniors I met at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and at Nevada State College in the suburb of Henderson. These 20-somethings live at home, work part-time jobs, and worry about their parents as well as themselves. Saenz’s dad is a realtor in Las Vegas.

Saenz: So he actually works as a busboy in downtown for a second job now.

The recession’s been tough on Nevada college students. Since June of 2007 the legislature has slashed funding for universities and colleges about 25 percent on average. And tuition’s gone up nearly 50 percent on average.

Ashley Brown has returned to college after failing to find a job with a B.A. in psychology. She’s now studying law enforcement and bracing herself for next year’s 8 percent tuition hike.

Ashley Brown: It just seems so hard to imagine that because it’s like, it just keeps going up and up and up and up.

Samantha Bledsoe is working on a B.A. in education so she can teach high school English. It’s taking longer than she expected.

Samantha Bledsoe: My degree has been pushed back. I’ll be graduating a year later because of the class cuts due to the budget cuts because they’re not offering the courses that I need.

Last year the legislature considered closing Nevada State because of the budget crisis. Didn’t happen. But all the uncertainty has demoralized students, says the school’s newspaper editor Stephanie Herrera.

Stephanie Herrera: I don’t want to say it’s a slap in the face, but it sort of feels like it sometimes. It’s almost like these tuition increases and budget cuts are telling us, just, you know, quit it, go into something like entertainment and, you know, just go that route.

Stephanies’s talking about those low-skilled, but well-paid jobs in Nevada’s gambling and tourism industries. Student Joseph Lopez tells of a friend who gave up her medical studies to become a cocktail waitress. That and another part-time job in Vegas earn her nearly six figures a year.

Joseph Lopez: When you’re already struggling and your choices are limited and you have that as a fall back, I mean like, who wouldn’t fall back on that? So, that’s a loophole, that’s a trap that I see so far.

Many students here to want to stay in Nevada but the one-horse economy and high jobless rate may drive them out. Doesn’t help that their friends who have graduated are working temp jobs or at the mall.

Saenz: Forever 21, H&M. Seriously, retail.

That’s where Sara Saenz’s friends have found jobs. Her friend Donovan Kaneshiro, a journalism major who finishes this spring, says a lot of graduates he knows are losing hope.

Donovan Kaneshiro: It’s very disheartening to have worked so hard for four or five years and you’re ready for the world and the world just kind of doesn’t want you, and you kind of just don’t have those options and so it’s very disheartening.

One option, these students say: wait out the bad economy in grad school.

In Las Vegas, Nev., I’m Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

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