Job Outlook for College Graduates Is Slowly Improving

November 17, 2011

The job outlook for college students is expected to improve by a modest 4 percent this academic year, according to a major annual survey of employers released on Thursday. This is the second year in a row that the hiring of new graduates is predicted to increase, following drops of 35 percent to 40 percent in 2008. Bachelor's degree graduates should see the most hiring, with a 7-percent increase in available jobs.

Many employers overestimated their hiring growth last year, anticipating a 10-percent increase in new bachelor's degree hires; but this year's data appear to be "a little deeper" and show "a more consistent pattern of growth," says the survey, which is administered by the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University.

Between baby boomers retiring, the exhaustion of today's work force, and employers' need to revitalize their skill base, "this trend will only accelerate over the next decade," wrote Phil Gardner, director of the institute, in the latest report. "All these factors are nudging the college labor market out of the doldrums, ahead of other segments of the labor market."

Of the more than 3,300 employers surveyed, nearly 40 percent said they planned to hire graduates from all fields of study, regardless of their major. And, despite overall growth, one-third had decided to cut back on hiring.

Some industries look more promising than others, according to the report. Accounting, engineering, finance, and supply chain are all expected to do well, while state and local agencies are less likely to hire, because of budget cuts. The strongest job sector was agriculture/food processing, predicted to grow by 14 percent this year. Marketing, advertising, and public relations were also expecting to see strong hiring growth.

One of the most employable degrees continues to be in computer science—a field that will have more available positions than qualified graduates. The opposite is true in most other occupations, and competition will stay fierce, says the study.

While more graduates may be employed, it is unlikely that they will be earning more money than their predecessors; 70 percent of employers said they had no intention of raising salaries for new workers.

The results of this year's survey showed consistency across economic sector, organizational size, academic major, location, and are "basically boring," wrote Mr. Gardner. "But you know what? Boring is good." This kind of stability means the upcoming job market may "have legs," he said.