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Economy squeezes grads

Mary Deibel (Evansville Courier & Press) -- The Class of 2001 is in for a reality check if it expects six-figure starting salaries, signing bonuses and stock options in a slowing economy, experts say.

"Full-time offers out since fall are still being honored, and salaries are up," says Jamie King of the Ford Career Center at the University of Texas-Austin's business school.

"But when three of eight students interviewing with a major financial services company told the recruiter they expect more than $100,000 minimum pay to go with their new MBAs, they quickly got a bite of reality pie."

Only last year the tightest labor market in three decades had the Class of 2000 calling the tune, and their soaring expectations were reflected in a survey that reported that 80 percent thought they'd reach their career goal in 10 years, while 25 percent expected to be millionaires by age 30.

But a slowing economy and slackening profits have made employers cautious in hiring plans and announcing major layoffs as a way to keep costs down.

A quarterly survey of 16,000 U.S. firms finds employers finally slowing new-hiring plans even though it's too early to identify a long-term trend.

Still, substantial hiring remains to be done despite three years of superheated payroll growth.

"The job market is still good, but what's different is the tenor of the competition. It isn't running at a fevered pitch we saw the last few years," says Camille Luckenbaugh of the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

The association's winter 2001 salary survey found starting pay returning to "the norm" despite hot demand for computer engineering grads, whose $53,443 is a whopping 14 percent increase over last year's figure. However, the association is rechecking employers to see if reports they're taking a "wait-and-see" approach to hiring are true.

The upshot: Students who planned to ride the New Economy rocket are exploring other options now that economic reality has brought expectations back to earth.

Princeton University recently broke new ground when it announced it will replace student loans with scholarships so graduates needn't skew their career choices to pay off thousands of dollars of debt incurred for a college education.

But long before that decision, Princeton career-services chief Beverly Hamilton-Chandler says, "We made sure our students know they have job options besides going into lucrative fields like investment banking and consulting. Those choices answer the short-term question of what you're going to do after college, but they may not answer what you're going to do with your life."

Sandy George Tracy, head of career services at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn., reports renewed interest among the liberal arts college's 300 soon-to-be graduates in working for a non-profit group and "giving something back."

Some Rhodes students spent spring break at a Washington nonprofits job fair sponsored by Action Without Borders, a six-year-old group that boasts a database of more than 20,000 organizations worldwide, linked through a www.idealist.org Web site.

(c) 2001 Evansville Courier & Press

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