Graduate placement sees muddled results

Seth Harris

A tight job market leaves many SDSU graduates feeling uncertain about the future.

Tony Reiss graduated in May as a non-traditional student with a degree in economics. After having experience in the job market and working in political campaigns, neither Reiss nor his wife thought he would spend almost six months searching for a job.

The majority of students who receive their degree and move into the job market should feel a sense of exhilaration; however, some recent and future graduates from SDSU may not feel excited for the impending uncertainty of the job market.

Reiss’ job search began in February and only recently ended earlier this month. Over that time, Reiss, 28, applied to 40 different places and received only a few interviews. He spent hours a day revamping his résumé.

“After graduation, I would spend four to five hours a day, every day, sifting through job openings and filling out applications and changing cover letters,” he said.

As his job search continued, he created a job title for himself to avoid telling people he was unemployed.

“I made up a title for myself, which was Chief Domestic Officer and Vice President in charge of procurement at our home, which meant I cooked and cleaned and did the grocery shopping,” he said.

Post-graduation a varying experience

Graduate placement is something many graduates would argue is an important issue, but SDSU has not tracked it as well as the university would like. Laurie Nichols, provost and vice president for Student Affairs, said university-wide placement data including graduate school and employment is not available, but the university is in the process of conducting a recent-graduate survey.

“This is an area we know we need to improve,” she said.

Many university colleges and departments keep track of student placement as best as possible. Dr. Dennis Hedge, dean and professor of the College of Pharmacy, said that even though students are not receiving the large sign-on bonuses they used to, graduates are still finding well-paid jobs.

“We have had 100 percent placement for several years,” Hedge said.

Not only are pharmacists still finding placement, Hedge said the supply and demand for pharmacists is balanced according to the Aggregate Demand Index, which rates a surplus of pharmacists at 1.0 and a shortage at 5.0. South Dakota’s is listed as a 3.0, he said.

Other programs on campus experience similar graduate placement rates. The College of Engineering has placed all of its graduates consistently for years. This year has been different. Students are working harder to earn a job and facing less flexibility in choosing a job, said Dr. Richard Reid, associate dean of the College of Engineering.

“We still have a pretty good engineering climate for hiring,” he said.

Reid said about 65 percent of graduates stay in South Dakota, which is more than just the South Dakota resident graduates. So S.D. is seeing a gain of engineering graduates from other states. From summer 2010 to spring 2011, the College of Engineering graduated 226 students.

“I say, when the name of your degree matches your job, I think it’s much easier [to find a job].”

The results are similar for Nursing. Dr. Roberta Olson, dean and professor of the College of Nursing, said 40 percent of nursing graduates have jobs waiting for them before graduation and the others soon find jobs.

“Within six months they are all employed,” she said.

With a total of 192 graduates between fall 2010 and spring 2011, all but three nursing students have been placed, and each of those graduated in May.

The  “unknown” graduate

As colleges and departments try to acquire placement data on recent graduates, they often find individuals who fail to respond to the surveys being sent out; these students become “unknown” until data is collected from them.

The colleges of Nursing, Agriculture and Biological Sciences, Education and Human Sciences, and Arts and Sciences all experience these missing data points in their placement data.

Of the 368 students who graduated from the College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences last school year, only 65 percent responded to placement surveys. Only 85 percent of the respondents were placed. In spite of the incomplete data, Dr. Barry Dunn, dean of the College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences, said students are entering a growing field of work.

“Agriculture has expanded beyond the traditional boundaries of the production of crops and livestock into food safety, nutrition, business and technology,” he said.

Many departments of the College of Education and Human Sciences experience placement rates of 90 percent or above. Dr. Jill Thorngren, dean of the College of Education and Human Sciences, attributes some of the success to how the staff focuses on getting students experience prior to graduation.

“We encourage them to get engaged in internships and experiential placements,” she said.

While many departments have high placement, others in the college are troubled with incomplete data. Students who remain “unknown” compose as much as 56 percent of graduates in one department and less in others.

Dr. David Hilderbrand, interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, shared a comment that some of the colleges can relate with.

“Placement rates for college graduates are difficult to get because students find jobs later,” he said.

In a manifestation of Hilderbrand’s words, 74 percent of last school year’s 373 graduates from the College of Arts and Sciences were “unknown,” making an accurate placement rate impossible to know. Even so, only 77 percent of the graduates who responded were placed.

In spite of economic downturn and tightening of many job markets, Hilderbrand said students should follow their hearts.

“Overall, it’s more important looking at what you enjoy and are good at instead of looking at employment rates,” he said.

A ‘frustrating’ job process

Although Reiss now has a job, he never thought things would have happened the way that they did.

“It was very frustrating; I didn’t think it would take that long after graduation,” he said. “I thought I would never hear back from anybody.”

His wife Elizabeth graduated from SDSU in 2007 with a degree in political science. Unlike Tony, Elizabeth was employed immediately after graduation. She was laid off from her job two years later, however.

Taking the opportunity to finish her education, Elizabeth enrolled at SDSU to get a Master’s degree in journalism. However, as she nears graduation in December she grows concerned about the likelihood of finding a job.

“I am concerned about the way the economy is with the jobless numbers that continue to come out,” she said. “It’s a little scary to hear that things aren’t getting better. That makes me concerned about what things will bring.”

With a preliminary unemployment rate of 4.7 percent for August, South Dakota has the third lowest rate in the nation, trailing only Nebraska and North Dakota and well below the nation’s rate of 9.1 percent. In December, new graduates will test the current economic state and see if the low unemployment will help them find a job.

Reiss said he got his current job because of an old contact from before he attended SDSU, and having a network and getting to know people. He suggests current students make those same connections.

“Remember everybody you meet and keep in touch,” he said. “You never know when that person will pop up and vouch for you.”