Graduating into Graduate Debt

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Debt. It’s the graduation gift that no college student wants. Amid the graduation money from grandparents and obscure second cousins, it waits, the sum that makes a couple thousand dollars look like a pittance in comparison. It’s a security bond that ensures years of financial instability and accumulates interest with a graduate’s maturation.

Despite student loans and paltry entry-level income, many Fairfield English majors are contemplating a major addition to their college debt- graduate school. Safely ensconced within the “Fairfield Bubble,” some are hesitant to enter a world of layoffs and high unemployment, preferring to bypass the recession and emerge, skills and credentials in hand.

With the current unemployment rate at 9.7%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, students are expressing anxiety about their futures.

“It’ a scary time to be graduating,” Meagan Flynn, a senior English/Journalism student said of the job outlook for graduating students.

A scary time, indeed, for English majors with aspirations to work in the fields of media and publishing. The portended death of print media and shift of content online, combined with the high unemployment rate, spells difficulty in earning coveted positions.

“So many newspapers are shutting down, magazines going online. It’s going to take a lot of work to find the job I actually want,” Carole Mancarella, a senior English/Journalism major said.

As newspapers, magazines, and books go digital, current employees are wondering if they’ll eventually be edited out of the company roster. The uncertain transition from print to digital media resulted in 42% of workers citing industry/company instability as a major cause of job dissatisfaction in 2009, up from 32% in 2007, according to a study by Publisher’s Weekly.

Additionally, the study highlighted the all-time low job security of Editorial employees, with 38% saying they are worried about their jobs. For English/Journalism majors, whose skills sets are well-suited to editorial positions, the job openings are few and far between, and the duration of a career with a company, uncertain.

Although senior English major Sarah Turner remains optimistic, stating that, “for any job, you need to be able to write well”, the recession and changing media format has forced many students to re-evaluate their ideal plans.

For some, re-evaluating plans means sacrificing passion in exchange for a secure job offer. Instead of targeting a few select companies, impending graduates have admitted to sending out resumes en masse for any job position that seems even remotely relevant.

“It’s opened up my perspective of what jobs I’ll take,” Susan Barnes, a Senior English student interested in pursuing a career in publishing said, “I wouldn’t just accept any job because it wouldn’t look good on my resume or lead to any job I want, but I’d be willing to give up fiction to get started.”

Fairfield student interns are quickly learning that they cannot afford to be choosy in their entry-level approach. While internships are typically known for yielding job offers upon completion, few publishing companies are asking interns to stay on in full-time positions.

“I haven’t heard of anyone being offered anything,” Mancarella said.

Turner, an intern at Woman’s Day magazine expressed similar sentiment. “Unfortunately, there are no full-time positions available to me after graduation.”

While Barnes is more upbeat about a potential job offer, saying that she will meet with a job recruiter at Penguin Group and regularly keeps in touch with the HR contact at John Wiley & Sons, Inc., she admits, “I have yet to be offered a specific job.”

Feeling that the industry is closing the book on newcomers, some students have opted to consider graduate school as their next logical approach.

“I began thinking about graduate school more recently. As I search for jobs, it becomes more apparent that a masters degree is the new bachelors Degree,” Flynn said of how the economy is affecting her future plans.

Barnes’ plans for graduate schools may be expedited, she said, stating, “Graduate school is a possibility because of the economy. I feel like I’m going to get my masters in the future, but am now questioning jumping into schooling after schooling.”

English professor and advisor Bob Epstein understands the sentiment behind students gravitating toward graduate school. “I would never discourage anyone from pursuing a graduate degree,” he said, “and certainly many people think it makes sense to use a period of recession to improve one’s qualifications for when the job market revives.”

He continued, “The only warning I regularly give students- and I think most faculty agree with me on this- is never to take on any debt for a degree in the Humanities. It may well be worth borrowing, within limits, for a professional degree like a JD or an MPA, but it is not a good idea to do so for a Masters of PhD degree in the Humanities. These would not improve your marketability enough to offset the loan.”

Tara Kuther, PhD, a professor of psychology at Western Connecticut State College, urges students to contemplate whether graduate school makes financial sense, stating that the average private school’s master’s tuition is $30,000 per year and shedding light on the minimal funding given to Humanities students.

“Students in the humanities receive little funding, largely because humanities faculty do not obtain grants as large as science faculty because they have fewer needs for laboratory space and equipment,” Kuther said, adding, “Whether grad school is worth it might depend on what discipline you choose.”

For English majors nearing graduation, it may be in their best interest to take a look at their debt figure, take a look at their potential $30,000 entry-level income post graduate school, and then decide whether a couple-year delay and doubled debt is a version of their life they’d like published.

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