Local colleges and universities turned out another batch of graduates this month, most of whom are trying to avoid becoming one of the nearly 447,000 unemployed Georgians looking for work.
While the state’s unemployment rate rose to 9.3 percent in April — above the national employment rate of 8.9 percent — too many local college grads are doing everything but settling into a 9-to-5 work day.
Many graduates are averting the lousy job market by heading back to school to beef up their resumes.
Michelle Orr graduated from Brenau University on May 8 with a bachelor’s degree in health science. She said she began searching for a job about four months before graduation, but turned up with nothing.
Orr even took a "how to find a job in a rough economy" workshop in hopes of landing a stable job. But when she still came up empty-handed, she decided to ride out the recession in the womb of academia.
She has plans to attend Brenau University this fall and will spend the next two years earning a degree in health care management.
"I applied and was accepted into graduate school and have decided to stick with racking up degrees until the economy decides to improve over the next three or so years," she said in an e-mail. "Once the economy decides to do an upswing, I will be ready with a master’s degree and pursuing a doctoral degree."
Orr said although she is currently employed at Brenau, the job is up come August.
She said the job outlook for this year’s graduates is pretty bleak.
"I did not speak to one student who has even received a full-time position, including nurses and teachers," Orr said. "The only people who had plans other than moving back home and hoping for an entry level job to call back were those off to graduate school, which also seems difficult because it’s expensive and loan companies are hesitant for even student loans."
But the college life isn’t such a bad one, she added.
"With regards to the real world, I think I am pretty content living in my comfortable, fake world for the time being. The less-than-desirable economy gives me time to decide what I really have a passion for without seeming like a person who does not have a set career path," Orr said.
Amanda Angleton just graduated from North Georgia
College & State University in Dahlonega with a bachelor’s degree in music performance. She, too, is heading back to school this fall.
Angleton hopes to attend Georgia College & State University in Milledgeville to spend the next two to three years earning a master’s degree in music therapy.
While Angleton has served as the assistant music director at Dahlonega United Methodist Church for the past year, she said she’s applying to be an assistant band camp director at the high school she attended in Evans. After that, she said she’ll be hunting for a part-time job in Milledgeville while she’s in school.
"Part of the (master’s degree) program is getting an internship and hopefully I’ll make some contacts ... and have a chance of getting a job at nursing home or a church or places like that," Angleton said.
She said the gloomy job market isn’t getting her down.
"I’m actually kind of hopeful," she said. "I feel like in 2« years it will be a lot more optimistic."
That’s what University of Georgia journalism student Brittany Cofer is hoping.
The Conyers native said she could have graduated this May but chose to return to UGA for another semester this fall to take more classes and gain more editorial experience at The Red & Black, the university’s independent student newspaper.
She said she chose to redeem her remaining six class hours funded by the HOPE scholarship when the job search she began in January was fruitless.
"I figured if I started looking early then something would come up. But I pretty much exhausted every opportunity, every avenue to find jobs, and there really just wasn’t anything out there," she said. "... I knew what to expect but still, you think, ‘Well, I’ve got this kind of experience. I’m a good hard worker, they’ll see they want to hire me.’ But it just isn’t like that, right now."
Even leaders of programs at Lanier Technical College with high job placement rates are keeping their fingers crossed this year’s graduates soon will find jobs.
David Byers, director of Lanier Tech’s dental hygiene program, said all 14 of last year’s graduates found at least part-time employment in the dental field within a year of graduation. He said this year’s program graduates will receive their licenses to practice within the next month and it remains to be seen how their job placement rates will pan out.
"I do know quite a few students are already out pounding the pavement looking for jobs because they know how difficult it’s going to be to find a job," Byers said. "... They recognize the pressure that’s there."
He said between Lanier Tech’s student warranty, which allows employers to send Lanier Tech graduates back for additional free training if necessary, and the school’s proximity to both Atlanta and rural areas, he is confident at least some of his students will find work.
And then there are students like recent Gainesville State College graduate Sam Howard who is seizing the economic slump to strike out on a grand adventure all his own.
Although Howard finished classes this spring with an associate’s degree in criminal justice and has plans to earn a bachelor’s degree at UGA, he’s going to see the world first.
Howard will soon leave for a six-month missions trip to Honduras. There he will teach English, build homes and work in orphanages.
"It just ended up being a good time to take a break from school and help some people by doing something I really enjoy," he said.
But after taking a year off from school, Howard expects he’ll be more than ready to hit the books in fall 2010 and hopes to get a job in federal law enforcement.
"It just makes more sense for me to keep going to school," he said. "It doesn’t make sense to me to settle for something when I could do something better."
Howard said honestly, he’s not too worried about the whole job thing.
"Whatever job the Lord wants me to have, I’ll have," he said.