College students express anxiety upon graduation

A Barnes & Noble College store.

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By Darren Johnson
Campus News

The college year is ending and there’s lots of anxiety. Today’s college students – about to graduate, transfer or head to graduate school – are increasingly uncertain about what’s going to happen next.

What jobs await? How to pay student loans? Where to live – with mom and dad again?

New research by Barnes & Noble College – which manages 770 college bookstores in the country, collecting all sorts of useful data from its customers, finds that, across the board, students are a bit worried – some more than others.

For example, only 57% of survey respondents feel confident in pursuing a full-time job after college. While some do expect to enroll in grad school or get a professional degree (36%), many only expect to find part-time work. Twenty-one percent feel they need to do an internship after graduation. Of those actively seeking a job, 34% feel discouraged; only 24% feel confident. About 30% of students plan to travel (14% internationally), though respondents to this overall question could toggle multiple answers.

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And what do students expect in a post-graduation job? Forty-four percent want a decent salary and 34 percent want to “contribute to the greater good,” while only 8% care about the “prestige” of the job.

Graduates are most concerned about “earning enough money” (68%) and difficulty in landing a job (53%). About half of students want a good “work/life balance” and just as many are anxious about their student loans becoming due.

“Students are concerned about their financial future, making it even more imperative to support them in their time on campus with affordable course materials and a positive academic experience so they can succeed in school and land the job that meets their needs,” according to Barnes & Noble College Vice President and CMO Lisa Malat.

“This is consistent with our Gen Z research, which showed that 89 percent of respondents rated a college education as valuable, viewing higher education as the pathway to their career and financial security. In fact, Gen Z’s biggest reason for heading to campus is to secure a good job.”

The median salary goal is $45,000/year while the median expectation is $40,000 – in other words, most students (60%), especially those with non-STEM degrees, do not expect to earn as much as they want, according to Malat. Seventeen percent of students expect to earn less than $25,000 a year with their first “real” job, while 24% expect $25,000 to $35,999. Twenty-six percent expect $35,000 to $49,999. Many graduates, about 34%, expect to earn over $50,000 right out of the gate.

Students were given a lot of adjectives to describe how they feel about entering today’s job market. An equal number (43%) toggled Apprehensive and Optimistic. Ten percent chose “angry.”

This survey was fielded April 8-14, 2017, from a sample of college students graduating Spring or Summer 2017, via the Barnes & Noble College Student Point of View (POV) community. BNC’s POV community is an online research community of 10,000 college students across the nation in every school that Barnes & Noble College serves.

Most telling, 35% of graduates expect to move in with parents (of them, 27% for 1-2 years; 17% more than that) and only 47% were fully sure that they wouldn’t have to move back home. Barnes & Noble College is trying to stay on the cutting edge of research as the Millennial Generation is replaced on campuses by younger Gen Z.

“Young teens are more entrepreneurial than their Millennial counterparts, showing interest in starting their own businesses and defining success in terms of financial statements over personal fulfillment. Colleges and universities can be supportive of this upcoming generation’s enthusiasm by giving them the tools they need to jumpstart their careers,” Malat said.

A Barnes & Noble College store.

Barnes & Noble College’s studies on the previous generation corroborate this. “In 2014, we did a survey with Millennials and it showed that 66 percent of students felt they weren’t developing the skills they needed for a career post-college. So, we provide career readiness support so when students leave college they feel better prepared upon graduation.”

Because Barnes & Noble College has a central, popular location on college campuses, they are in a prime position to survey the tastes of students on each campus and become a resource for them. In turn, Barnes & Noble College regularly sends its 770 campuses the data it collects.

“Our Career Now program educates students on the importance of thinking of their career early and offers advice on topics like how to make the most of job fairs, prepare a resume, best practices for a job interview and balancing a college course load along with part-time work,” she said.

Malat said that it’s in the colleges’ and bookstores’ mutual best interest for students to succeed and stay in school, but there are some discrepancies between student needs and how these needs are being met.

For example, at community colleges, 72% of students said that they would like their campuses to provide better career services – many students didn’t know if the colleges had such offices and where they were located. Only 46% said they were actually aware of their campus career services centers, according to Malat.

Community colleges are different, Malat said, because communications between administration and students are more difficult, considering more students commute and aren’t on campus as much as their four-year counterparts.

Malat said that, with approximately 10,000 student workers under Barnes & Noble College’s employ, they have the resources to help bridge communications between administrations and students on campuses, and that the bookstore can independently run programs to improve school spirit, relieve student stress and help them feel more connected to the school.

Two-year students feel less connected to their campuses than four-year students, she said (20% vs. 41%) and only 54% of two-year students feel they have a friend on campus (compared to 80% at four-year schools).

Non-traditional, older students – who largely attend two-year colleges – were also studied: “Our research shows non-traditional students see higher education as an opportunity to improve careers, earn incomes or set a good example for their families,” Malat said. “The non-traditional group greatly values their education, with 89 percent considering college ‘moderately’ to ‘very’ valuable. However, only 15 percent feel financially secure, something that influences everything from their choice of school to their textbook choices. …

“We’ve become more than just a place for students to buy books and merchandise – we’ve become a support system that helps students along their academic journey,” Malat said.

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