Party’s over. Was it worth it?

Robyn Richardson slumps in her seat after a long day of work at a job she detests but is thankful for.Richardson explains how both her parents simply slid into their jobs out of college. Jobs they loved, while her post-college life has not been so easy.

“It’s been extremely hard since I graduated to find the kind of job I thought I could get with a bachelor’s degree,” said Richardson,, a 2004 TCU graduate and now employee for Child Protective Services. “I didn’t see this coming.”

Richardson, who has a degree in social work, found it almost impossible to land a job related to her field. She is finding that a master’s degree in social work is needed to get a job that pays adequately and that she enjoys – the kind of job she thought her bachelor’s degree from TCU would provide.

Richardson said she feels lucky her current employer will pay for her to attend graduate school and receive her master’s degree, but she will be leaving as soon as her contract ends to look for a better job because she does not enjoy her current duties.

“Like a lot of my friends that graduated with bachelor’s (degrees), I’m finding that things are a lot different than when my parents graduated from college,” Richardson said.

Students and experts agree that the job market for college graduates is changing, and that the changes do not favor graduates with bachelor’s degrees. Some economists cite a list of reasons for these changes, including factors students have control over.

The Statistics

Daniel Hecker, a labor economist for the Bureau of Labor Statistics, affirms what Richardson and her friends are experiencing.

“A college degree is not a guarantee of anything these days,” Hecker said. “And it used to be that it was.”

Hecker said that since the number of college graduates has increased in recent years, some graduates are finding there simply aren’t enough jobs for graduates with bachelor’s degrees.

The paychecks bachelor’s degree-holders take home are not increasing as much as other workers, especially in relation to high school workers. According to recent calculations from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median weekly pay of the high-school educated is up 3.6 percent since 2000, adjusted for inflation, a rate of increase four times as great as the 1-percent rise in pay for the college-educated.

Since the 2001 recession, the wages of college-educated workers has dropped, suggesting employers increasingly take degrees for granted, Hecker said.

Richardson said she recognizes that attitude daily.

“I feel like a bachelor’s degree is like a high school diploma was 10 years ago,” she said. “It’s as if employers don’t value it as much anymore.”

Students’ Role in the Equation

Hecker also said some reasons for the difficulty many bachelor’s degree-holders have finding a job can be directed at their own motivation to prepare for life after college.

“Many of them didn’t develop the skills employers were looking for while in college, and some of this is due to their choice of a major that does not lead directly into a specific job field, such as a communications major or a liberal arts major,” Hecker said.

He said some graduates are increasingly choosing lower-level jobs that are not as financially rewarding as others because of a passion for a subject such as art, music or teaching. In these cases, he said a love of the job is more important than a larger paycheck.

“There are a lot of factors feeding into the equation that’s leading to a changing job market for bachelor’s degree-holders,” he said. “Some of the factors are unavoidable, but some of them are in the hands of the degree-holder.”

Hecker said he warns college students, “Make sure you’re acquiring the right skills for the job you want, and have an internship or some experience more than a bachelor’s degree, although for some jobs, know you’ll have to go on to get another degree.”

Richardson said: “I keep telling my friends that are in school to get more experience with real employers in their job field working as interns or employees before they graduate. I know that if I had really gotten myself ready this way, I wouldn’t be where I am now.”

Jenny Cureton, assistant director of career development for TCU Career Services, said she does not think students are getting enough real-world experience in their fields before they graduate.

“You cannot expect to be hired easily with a bachelor’s degree, no matter how great the school you graduated from or how high your GPA, without any solid internships or career experience,” Cureton said.

Keeping Up With The Market

With trends working against college graduates more than ever, Hecker said, students should not expect high paychecks immediately out of college.

“People have gotten used to thinking that when they get out of college, they will earn 40 to 50 percent more than their high school friends who never went to college,” Hecker said. “We’re finding this wage premium cannot always be expected anymore.”

Richardson said she does not enjoy her job or feel that she is getting paid enough but is lucky to have one that relates to her major because she has friends who are not so lucky.

“I know a bunch of people that have taken jobs at coffee bars and restaurants after they graduated with a bachelor’s degree, surprised by the lack of jobs available for recent graduates with little experience in the field,” Richardson said.

Hecker explains: “There’s a significant number of college graduates doing work that doesn’t require the degree they hold – like clerical, secretarial, retail and food industry work. This doesn’t seem to match up, and many graduates are surprised to find themselves in these kinds of situations – making much less money than they anticipated when they leave school and look for work.”

Kristin Klopfenstein, an assistant economics professor at TCU, teaches on the issue in her labor economics classes. She said the job market for graduates with bachelor’s degrees is not as promising as many of them expect it to be.

However, Klopfenstein’s worry is that students sometimes over-invest in education to make themselves more marketable to potential employers, seeking to avoid a few years in jobs they feel are “below them.” For some jobs, such as social work or speech pathology, she said, graduate school is important, but for many, it is not needed.

“Many students expect the returns of a graduate degree to be larger than they actually are,” Klopfenstein said, “and they incur a great deal of debt and emotional stress in graduate school where the payoff is often more in the type of job you can get, like a university professor position, rather than a better paying job.”

Some students choose graduate school to allow more career flexibility. For students in education, a master’s degree can open up more career opportunities, such as jobs in educational administration, rather than simply classroom positions.

Geoff Godley graduated from TCU with a bachelor’s degree in middle-school education but decided to get his master’s to provide himself more job opportunities.

“I know that I did not need this master’s, but I also know that I don’t want to teach in a classroom for the rest of my career, so this degree will allow me to have other options,” Godley said.

Hecker said students need to take a proactive stance in regard to their future. He said they cannot just sit back and expect to land the job they desire.

“College students should be a little nervous about the dismal job market they will be soon entering,” Hecker said.” They should research and know what’s going on in their proposed field of work before they graduate.”

Richardson said: “I sometimes wish I had graduated when my parents did – it seems like it would have been easier then … The payoff for my bachelor’s degree is beginning to falter, and I can feel it happening to me and my friends before our eyes.

“I am not going to sit back anymore and let it dictate my future, though. I’m working to fight these trends, and I will get the job I know I deserve.