In Our View: Graduates, Take Heed

Students should work toward a career that interests them and is in demand

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A recent report highlighting strong job growth in Clark County is welcome news for everybody, but particularly for those who are preparing to don a cap and gown. As soon-to-be graduates get ready to enter the job market, for the first time in years that market appears ready to welcome them.

From March 2013 to March 2014, Clark County added 4,800 jobs, according to the state Employment Security Department. That reflected a growth rate of 3.5 percent — more than double the national rate and nearly double the statewide number. Not all the data is wine and roses, as regional economist Scott Bailey notes that jobs in manufacturing and construction have yet to recover to pre-recession levels. But overall the outlook is bright for the region.

All of that is an appropriate prelude to graduation season. Over the next six weeks or so, thousands of graduates will be leaving local high schools and colleges to seek out their place in the world. Hopefully, they will do so with eyes wide open and enthusiasm in abundance, yet with a realistic understanding of what employers are seeking — an understanding that should be cultivated throughout their schooling.

Last year, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., aimed to help students gain just such an understanding, as he proposed The Student Right to Know Before You Go Act of 2013. “Next to homeownership, a college education is often the most expensive investment Americans will make in their lifetime,” Wyden noted. “Gaining some level of post-secondary degree or certificate is essential to securing employment in the modern workforce.” But it also requires some research ahead of time.

Wyden’s bill would compile data such as student transfer rates, graduation rates, and average debt incurred by students at a particular school, and it would make that data readily accessible. The bill also would compile the expected future earnings for a specific degree (Hint: An engineering degree probably has more earning potential than a philosophy degree). Alas, the bill (S. 915) has languished in the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, and we urge committee chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, to breathe some life into it.

But with or without the The Student Right to Know Before You Go Act, those heading to college are advised to consider what their degree will mean down the road. You might be passionate about popular culture (an actual major at Bowling Green State University in Ohio), but that might not make for a wise investment of $100,000 over the next four years.

On the other hand, a study earlier this year by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected that industrial-organizational psychologist will have the highest growth rate of any field over the next 10 years — as measured by percentage. So, if your passion is for helping employees to be happy and fulfilled in their jobs, this is the perfect time to be entering the job market. The second-fastest growing occupation is expected to be personal care aides, a fact that is much less surprising than the growth of industrial-organizational psychologist.

Regardless, students should be working toward a profession that captures their interest while also developing skills that are desired by employers. Data suggest that the job market in Clark County is growing, but it’s also more competitive than ever — in part because of the presence of many experienced workers who were displaced during the recession. The education and life experiences garnered through schooling are invaluable — but some are more invaluable than others.