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Job prospects good for college grads in US

The hiring frenzy for graduating college students during the late 1990s has not returned, but it's getting close, analysts say.

By Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / May 7, 2007

As graduating college students move in with their parents or occupy a friend's couch while they search for jobs, hosts of these transients will be relieved to hear that by all measures it should be a relatively short job hunt.

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A steadily improving job market indicates that most graduates will have little problem finding a job that will elevate them from the ranks of student to young professional.

Based on statistics from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), the future looks bright for college grads this year. At least 17.4 percent more jobs await the class of 2007 than last year's class. Even better, 26 of 29 undergraduate majors surveyed by NACE reported larger starting salary offers.

Among grads both new and old, a university degree seems to be a virtual employment guarantee. As of March, people with a bachelor's degree or higher experienced a 1.8 percent unemployment rate compared with a national average of 4.4 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"It is a favorable market for the new college graduates," says Brett Good, district president for southern California and Arizona at Robert Half International, a staffing company.

The abundance of job opportunities reflects the continued improvement of the economy since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. While the market for entry-level positions has yet to match the hiring frenzies seen during the late 1990s, analysts say it's getting close. "Every year since 2002, things got a little bit better, and then there was a significant improvement in 2005-06, and we've continued to improve at a very solid level," says Richard White, director of career services at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J.

In addition, companies have begun taking steps to fill the impending void created when baby boomers, who account for 45 percent of the workforce, begin retiring. "It's getting enough coverage that organizations are taking it seriously and saying how do we work with what will become a very problematic supply-and-demand issue," says Mr. Good.

All of this means that it's a good time to be graduating from college. But for those with specialized degrees, it's an even better time. Starting salaries for business or technical majors have grown the most. Marketing graduates, for example, saw their average initial salary offer increase by 10.3 percent this year, according to NACE. Salaries offered to liberal arts grads on the other hand increased on average by only 1.3 percent in 2006.

Charlie Smith, a film major at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., says most of his friends with economics or business degrees have already lined up jobs for next year, while he and his friends in the liberal arts are still struggling to find something.

"Of everybody I know who has already graduated, there's nobody who hit the ground running," says Mr. Smith. "It's not because anybody's stupid or they don't have any talent. It's just impossible to hit the ground running unless you're an accountant."

Christopher Bayerle, an art history major at Birmingham Southern College in Alabama who graduates this spring, worries that only grads from top universities or with advanced degrees will stand out in today's job market. "Even if we have more jobs [in the US] each day, there are so many colleges in this country, and so many people are going to college," he says.