The most recent graduates of Cornell appear to have entered a less bleak labor market than Cornellians in previous years: For the third consecutive year since 2008, the University saw an increase in the number of students who reported finding employment within six months after their graduation.
According to data recently obtained from Cornell Career Services, 53.5 percent of the Class of 2011 had a job six months after graduating, compared to 50 percent in the Class of 2009 — showing perhaps the first signs of recovery from the worst recession since the Great Depression.
The news may come as a relief to those preparing to walk across the stage after the economy swallowed up 7.9 million jobs with the stock market crash and protesters took to the streets — first in Zuccotti Park, then elsewhere, including Ithaca — in the Occupy movement.
“The economy is very slowly picking up steam, and most segments of the labor market are benefiting from this, including college graduates,” said Prof. John Abowd, economics, director of the Labor Dynamics Institute at Cornell.
For the second consecutive year, salaries continued to rise. Figures from postgraduate reports that surveyed alumni at comparable time frames showed that the median salary of Class of 2011 graduates, $52,000, bypassed that of the Class of 2010, at $50,000, and the Class of 2009, at $46,030.
Within the University, however, some of the seven undergraduate schools fared better than others: the College of Arts and Sciences, saw its mean salary rise 5.3 percent, from $45,119 to $47,495 in a year — the highest rate of increase in salaries. The College of Human Ecology, meanwhile, saw its graduates’ salaries dip from $41,840 to $40,936. Graduates of the College of Architecture, Art and Planning trailed the other six undergraduate colleges in earnings — for at least the sixth year in a row — with a mean salary of $38,262.
With slightly better job prospects overall, fewer students are going to graduate schools to wait out a shaky economy compared to those who graduated during the recession, according to data from Cornell Career Services.
Six months after graduating from Cornell, 30.3 percent of the Class of 2011 reported they were attending graduate school — a slight dip from previous years, when 34.3 percent of the Class of 2009 said they were enrolled in graduate school.
“When people thought the job market was really bad, it was sort of a good time to go to graduate school,” said Prof. Ronald Ehrenberg, industrial and labor relations.
Now, Ehrenberg said, he sees more students securing job offers earlier on in their senior year.
“I have a lot of students who I teach in the fall, and I was stunned at how many of them already had jobs by [fall semester],” Ehrenberg said.
Because a Bachelor’s degree from Cornell has continued to maintain strong economic value, Ehrenberg said, students at the University have, by and large, been sheltered from the worst of the recession.
“I think that Cornell students have not felt as much of the pain that many graduates from lesser schools have felt,” he said.
Perhaps backing Ehrenberg’s words, the employers hiring the most Cornellians in the Class of 2011, according to Cornell Career Services, included top recruiters such as Bank of America Merill Lynch, Citi, Goldman Sachs, Google, J.P. Morgan and Chase and Teach for America.
The fear of unemployment may have also encouraged more students to take advantage of career advising on campus, as Cornell Career Services has seen demand for its services dramatically surge in recent years.
While the University’s postgraduate report from 2007 stated that the office saw 11,630 individuals through both appointments and its walk-in advising services, its latest report stated that the number of students seeking career advising had since grown to 16,501.
Just weeks before seniors flood Schoellkopf Stadium in their gowns and caps, Cornell economists’ forecasts for their future, while not guaranteed to be bright, looked more positive than in prior years.
The economy may be picking up as students prepare to enter the job market. Although Abowd said the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ March employment report — which stated that the unemployment rate was little changed at 8.2 percent — was “discouraging,” he said he expects its April report will “be better.” Additionally, Abowd said that he believes employment figures for March will be “revised upwards” in the Bureau’s next report.
Ehrenberg said he was confident that “Cornell students are really well-positioned” for the labor market when they graduate.
“You see horror stories in newspapers about students emerging from college with thousands of dollars of debt, but that's just not going to happen here,” he said. “Because of our financial aid policies, there is sort of a cap on the amount of debt that students can wind up with.”
“I think things will be fine for our students,” Ehrenberg added. “Coming to Cornell is a great deal.”