The class of 2012 gets creative in tough job market
For the millions of twentysomethings graduating from universities across the country this spring, the word “recession” is one they have grown into adulthood with—a profane utterance that elicits thoughts of unemployment lines and moving back in with their parents.
UC Santa Cruz senior literature major Arianna Vinion is well aware of the word and what it might mean for her future. When asked what she plans to do after graduation, she jokingly refers to the popular Internet meme that depicts Samuel L. Jackson’s character in the film Pulp Fiction pointing a gun toward the camera with the caption “Ask me what I’m doing after graduation one more goddamned time.”
It is understandable that the class of 2012 is even more sensitive about their impending graduation than college students usually are. Many out of this year’s crop of seniors began college in the fall of 2008, making them the first graduating class to have studied during the entirety of the recession. Now, as the mortarboards fly, seniors are reflecting on how the economic strife has impacted their college careers and postgrad aspirations and trying to find creative solutions around the jobs crisis.
Although the National Bureau of Economic Research declared the recession over in June 2009, the national job market has yet to recover. The unemployment rate rose to 8.2 percent last month, up from 8.1 percent, and only 69,000 jobs were added in May—less than half of what was expected.
In Santa Cruz County, the unemployment rate decreased from 13.7 percent to 12 percent in April, according to the most recent data available. The county also added 3,500 jobs that month.
“It definitely shows that at best it’s stalled and at worst it’s starting to slide back a little bit,” says Mary Flannery, who is a professor of economics at Cabrillo College and UCSC.
The country’s financial strife has had a significant domino effect on California’s public education system. In the past year, the state has cut $750 million from the University of California’s budget, and as a result UCSC annual tuition has risen from $3,429 in 2001 to $11,220 this academic year. Meanwhile, community colleges have been cut by $809 million since 2008, and the fee per unit has doubled since 2003.
Vinion says her parents’ financial situation, combined with the state of the economy, influenced her decision to attend UCSC and then return to Santa Barbara to attend community college shortly thereafter.
“I came here originally as a freshman in 2008 because the school I wanted to go to was too expensive,” she says. “[But] once I got here, I realized I was also too guilty to have my parents pay so much for the UC education.”
Vinion transferred back to UCSC in spring 2011 and will graduate this June with no student loan debt, but also without an immediate source of income or residence.
“There’s a month where I don’t know where I’m going to live. I’m going to couch surf, I’m going to live out of my car, I’m going to store my possessions at a friend’s house,” Vinion says. “I’m looking for a job…[and] if I can’t find a good job, I’ll take a bad job.”
Other graduates plan on volunteer work as a way of getting their feet wet in the field they want to find employment in. Fifty-three-year-old Huong Bui of Capitola just graduated from Cabrillo College with a degree in early childhood education. Although she already holds a job as a caretaker, she hopes to find work as a teacher for children with disabilities. She plans on volunteering with the Walnut Avenue Women’s Center as a way of gaining experience working with children.
“To find a job right now is very difficult,” Bui says. “You need to have patience and work hard. I am willing to volunteer everywhere to contribute to my country.”
Bui’s diploma was many years in the making. Before moving to the United States in 2006, Bui lived in Vietnam, where she grew up through the Vietnam War and spent a year in a concentration camp.
“We didn’t have a very good education and environment to develop knowledge, so I came here and was able to live and work to have a good life in America,” Bui says.
During her four years as a Cabrillo student, Bui, a single mother of three daughters, would leave her home at 7 a.m. and return at 10:30 p.m. after a day of classes and volunteer work. She noticed her classes grow larger and teachers become less numerous at the hands of the poor economy and began attending marches to protest budget cuts.
Now, Bui’s two youngest daughters are working toward earning their college degrees, with their mother as inspiration.
“They’re the apples of my eyes,” she says with a smile. “They’re always saying, ‘Mom, you’re a good example [for us].’”
UCSC literature major Rosanna van Straten is another first generation student who decided to pursue a higher education in the United States after moving to Northern California from Amsterdam, Holland in the middle of high school. While some of her friends have been able to find employment straight out of college, she hasn’t begun searching. Rather, she’s taking an atypical approach to the job market by funneling her journalism aspirations into a traveling project.
Many brainstorming sessions with friend and UCSC graduate Hana Lurie led to the Kickstarter project “Pulse of the Nation: the Revolutionary Power of Inquiry,” a photojournalism trip across the country. They plan to interview three generations of Americans—people in their 20s, 50s and 70s—about how they keep themselves happy and support themselves simultaneously. They are hoping to raise $4,000 by June 20, and were $465 away from their goal as of the writing of this article.
“Even if nothing comes out of [this], we’re at least doing what we want to do right now,” van Straten says. “We have nothing left to lose.”
Although van Straten planned on going to graduate school immediately after getting her bachelor’s degree, her experiences as an undergrad during the recession made her put those plans on the back burner.
“I’m honestly wondering what difference it’s going to make whether I have another degree on top of the degree I already have,” she says.
For others, however, graduate school remains a good immediate plan. UCSC business management economics major Kabir Sehgal, who is graduating at the age of 20 years old, plans to go back to school next fall to earn his MBA.
“Graduate school is a must for me,” says Sehgal. “Before, it used to be if you have a college degree you’re at the top of the pile, but now it’s ‘What else do you have?’”
Despite graduating in half the time it typically takes to earn a bachelor’s degree, Sehgal will still leave with $60,000 in student loan debt.
“Right now a lot of people are just focused on getting out of here because it’s been such a long process that’s taken up a lot of money,” he says.
Sehgal will start working full time as a product quality operations analyst for Google next month, a job he was hired for after six months of searching. Although he isn’t sure yet if he will stay at Google when he begins grad school in the fall, Sehgal attributes his success in finding employment to his ability to market himself through social media and LinkedIn, a professional networking site.
“Really learn how to market yourself because that’s all you can do to put yourself out there,” advises Sehgal. “Creating an online presence is where everything’s going.”
Meanwhile, seniors recognize the need to stay positive and patient as they attempt to find their place in the workforce. Vinion speaks with uncertainty and optimism about the possibilities that lie before her as graduation day approaches.
“We have degrees that won’t keep us dry in the rain, and we’re basically out there with our own wits,” she says, “but I do feel like I can be what I want to be.”