Survey: 2011 grads more optimistic about prospects
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New college graduates are slightly more optimistic about their career prospects than a year ago, but they are more pessimistic than last year about their earnings potential as they enter the workforce.
Those were among the conclusions of the Collegiate Seniors' Economic Expectation Research Index, conducted this spring at Duquesne University.
Other findings showed that nursing graduates were the most optimistic overall about their prospects, followed by those who majored in computer science, engineering and business. Education majors felt the most academically prepared to pursue their careers.
In the four years the survey has been conducted, the college seniors had their lowest expectations in the spring of 2009, just months after the global financial collapse, said Charles Wilf, assistant professor of quantitative sciences at Duquesne's A.J. Palumbo School of Business Administration and the survey's founder and director. He worked with three undergraduates at Duquesne to compile and analyze this year's results. Polling was conducted in conjunction with YPulse, a New York-based firm that supplies research and strategy on youth trends.
The survey includes responses from 1,114 seniors in 47 states and the District of Columbia who were scheduled to graduate between April and August. The respondents were 21 to 24 years old and did not plan to enter graduate school immediately after earning their undergraduate degrees. Of those surveyed from mid-April through mid-May, 59 percent were female, 41 percent were male. The group included a mix of students at public and private colleges and universities.
Specifically, 52 percent of those surveyed characterized their own prospects in their career choice as good or very good, up from 50 percent in 2010, while 21 percent believed that their prospects were poor or very poor, down from 24 percent a year ago who felt they had dim job prospects.
On the issue of expected income, the respondents were less optimistic than last year. Overall, 45 percent this year expect to earn $30,000 or less in the next year, up 2 percent from 2010, while 19 percent expect salaries of more than $50,000, down 4 percent from a year ago.
There was a distinct gender gap in salary expectations with men far more optimistic than women in projecting their incomes. Among females, 52 percent expect to earn $30,000 or less in the next year compared with 33 percent of males. Only 11 percent of the women expect salaries over $50,000 in the coming year compared with 30 percent of men surveyed. In the next three years, 20 percent of females expect to earn $30,000 or less vs. 10 percent of men; and 35 percent of females expect earnings to exceed $50,000 in the next three years compared with 63 percent of men who believe that their salaries will top $50,000 in the next three years.
Asked how their academic majors readied them for their career choices, 68 percent said they were well or very well prepared, down slightly from 69 percent last year; and 11 percent felt their major prepared them poorly or very poorly, up from 10 percent in 2010.
Education majors were most confident about their training, with 90 percent saying they were prepared or very prepared. Math majors felt least ready with fewer than 10 percent stating they were prepared. Just over 20 percent of nursing majors felt prepared by their studies to enter their careers even though nursing majors had the highest percent of respondents, 81 percent, who felt their job prospects were good or very good. Similarly, education majors, though they felt most prepared, had among the lowest expectations for their career choice.
Among all respondents, more faced student loans this year than last upon graduation. In the 2011 survey, 58 percent had outstanding loans compared with 50 percent in 2010. Broken out by field of study, performing arts and nursing majors carried the greatest percent of loans (nearly 70 percent of students with those majors), while just over 30 percent of economics majors had outstanding loans, the lowest percentage in the survey.
The value of the survey, said Dr. Wilf, is that it measures and analyzes college seniors' expectations and perceptions and "how they perceive the economy and their role in it."
First Published June 17, 2011 12:00 am