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Roiling economy forces major decision

11/4/2013

By MATTHEW KENWRIGHT

mkenwright@dailynews.net

As Fort Hays State University students browsed booths at the fifth annual Majors and Graduate Programs Fair, a geosciences professor flew a mini-drone overhead to demonstrate his department's capabilities.

With many clad in sweatpants and hoodies, the students were at home with the college lifestyle. All the talk of choosing a major and starting a career was foreign.

Jobs are a hot topic outside the college bubble. September's employment report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics suggested the university's future alumni should carefully consider what they study.

Although the jobs data reported a 3.7 percent unemployment rate for college graduates with a bachelor's degree or higher, the number does not reflect underemployment. Forty-four percent of higher-education graduates have jobs that do not require a bachelor's degree, according to a June report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Patricia Griffin, director of Academic Advising and Career Exploration Center, said the fair also promoted double majors, minors, certificates and graduate school.

"There are a variety of things to enhance their undergraduate experience and give them something to stand out," Griffin said. "When applications line up, what do you have that makes you more valuable than everyone else who's like you?"

Griffin said students can come to her office for a one-hour meeting every week for three weeks to use the office's resources to explore different majors and careers.

Information about each major's transferable skills and possible career paths will be valuable, Griffin said. Most professionals in the 21st century will have three or four different careers, she said.

Scott Robson, chairman of the communication studies department, said he tells students landing a career job after graduation is about self-marketing.

"It's not any particular major," Robson said. "It's how you present yourself."

Most students said passion, not career prospects, determined their major choices.

Alexa Schindler, a freshman from Colby, said she enjoys being around children.

"I'm an early childhood education major because I really enjoyed teaching dance throughout high school," Schindler said. "It's going to be tough getting a job, but you do what makes you happy."

Ryan Imber, a freshman from Byers, Colo., said, "If you don't like what you're doing, there's no point in doing it."

Other students had a different perspective.

Alicia Kroeger, a freshman from Ellis, said she is majoring in business because it is practical, even though she enjoys music.

"It's flexible with everything," Kroeger said.

Jamie Gittinger, a sophomore from Goodland, said the job market for interior designers is a concern for her. Majoring in business or communications is another option for her, she said.

"That's the hard part that's kept me back from considering a major. I'm mostly here to speak with people," Gittinger said.

FHSU's undergraduate employment data from the class of 2011 to 2012, compiled by the university's Career Services office, reflects a mixed job market for its graduates.

The class had a 95 percent "success rate" as of December 2012, according to the report. That figure accounts for those who have found employment within or outside their major's field and those who continued their education.  

The nursing department was one of the most successful fields with 63 of its 68 graduates working within the field, two continuing education, one not seeking employment and two job-searching at the time, according to the report. In comparison, the art department had 15 of its 33 graduates find employment within the field, 10 outside the field, five continued education, one did not seek employment and two were unemployed, according to the report.

Dan Rice, director of Career Services, said he has noticed current students are more engaged in the job hunt compared to previous classes.

"There was a time students kind of sat back and maybe thought, 'Well it's not worth it because the jobs aren't out there,' but I think they're sensing the jobs have come back so they're more aggressive, more assertive and more involved," Rice said.

Most employers who do not need skill sets such as engineering, accounting or nursing are looking at all majors, Rice said.

Several programs have demonstrated consistent growth since 2010, according to the registrar's report tracking the number of undergraduate/graduate majors enrolled on the 20th day of the fall semester.

The health and human performance department increased 35 percent, nursing grew 43 percent and biological sciences increased 22 percent, according to the report.

Much of the growth can be attributed to virtual students, said Chris Crawford, interim provost.

The liberal arts degree programs have not grown because many students are looking for majors that are well-defined, he said.

"We are growing in programs that have a direct career outlet," Crawford said. "Nursing, teacher education and management. Right now, the workforce demands those sets of degrees."