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Federal Study: 2008 Grads Not All Doomed

Data released Tuesday by the federal government’s National Center for Education Statistics has shed further light on America’s college class of 2007-08, which left school only to fall victim to the worst economic crunch in decades.

The report, part of a recurring series of studies dubbed Baccalaureate and Beyond, assesses the status of more than 17,000 college graduates as of 2012, four years after graduation.

The results show that among those who earned a bachelor’s degree in 2008, most are employed full-time, but a significant portion not, despite being college graduates in the prime of their working lives.

Of the 2008 graduates surveyed by the government, seven percent were unemployed, and another eight percent had fallen out of the labor force entirely (only those actively seeking work are considered unemployed by the government).

Seventeen percent were still enrolled in school seeking an additional post-secondary or graduate degree. Of those who were employed, eight percent only worked a part-time job and another eight percent held multiple jobs. All told, 69 percent of 2008 graduates were working in a single full-time job come 2012.

While that number shows a solid majority of students ultimately gained full-time work, it’s also a significantly lower proportion than previous college classes. An earlier government study found that, for comparison, the college class of 2000-2001, which also entered the workforce during a recession, still achieved a full-time employment rate of nearly 80 percent, with fewer members leaving the workforce and an unemployment rate of only five percent.

Unsurprisingly, certain major choices were significantly correlated with more successful job outcomes. Of graduates who majored in so-called STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields, only five percent were unemployed and seven percent were out of the labor force, compared to 7 and eight percent for non-STEM fields.

Over 90 percent of STEM majors in the labor force hold full-time jobs, and those with full-time jobs earn a median of $60,000 a year, compared to the $44,000 median for non-STEM majors. The highest-paid subgroup of all were engineers, who could expect median salaries of over $67,000, while the lowest-paid subgroup were education majors, who had a median pay of $37,000.

The different in major choice was more important than where graduates went to school, as graduates of both public and private four-year colleges earned an average of $50,000 a year, and both were employed at similar rates.

While the study did compare outcomes based on major choice, it did not evaluate how successful graduates were in actually finding jobs related to their area of study.

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