It's not all cap and groan

Scholars must be spending a lot of time thinking about dollars.

Paying for private college can be like financing a new luxury car - every year for four years running. And many states are hiking the cost of their public institutions to help make up big budget shortfalls.

So what are new graduates' prospects for finding the jobs that will help pay off big school loans - with enough left over to pay rent?

It's getting tough out there.

Companies want experienced, plug-and-play personnel, says John Challenger, head of Challenger, Gray and Christmas, a California outplacement firm. "And that rules out the latest crop of college grads."

Still, many of today's college grads come with credentials beyond their degrees. Nearly 40 percent of undergraduates surveyed worked full time in 1999-2000, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. An additional 40 percent worked part time.

Learning to balance work and studies can build the confidence new workplace entrants now need.

World-beaters abound, even in economic downturns. A report last year by the Kaufman Foundation indicated more than 1 in 10 men between 25 and 34, for example, were trying to to start a business.

There are other encouraging signs behind the ominous headlines. Some 17 percent of small firms plan to add staff in the coming months, says the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

And while jobs in the high-tech sector pay less than they used to, grads in the business disciplines have seen entry-level pay rise.

For liberal-arts grads, starting salaries average $29,543, up more than 3 percent from last year, says the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

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