Experience and degree combo may help CMU grads in job market

Elementary education major Kelly Husky, second from left, signs to receive her cap and gown for graduation from University Center bookstore employee Beth McBride, right, while biology major Vanessa Stone, left, waits for Husky after picking up her own graduation attire and business marketing senior Joe Schmidtbauer stands in line for his on Thursday.


Colorado Mesa University graduation

8:30 a.m. Saturday at Stocker Stadium

Class size: 1,342 graduates earning 1,416 degrees and certificates.

Last year: 1,206 graduates earning 1,279 degrees and certificates.

Keynote speaker: Justin Kawcak, MBA graduate and Associated Student Government president.

Colorado Mesa University will graduate 1,342 students Saturday and send them out into the working world.


A recent analysis conducted by The Associated Press found a bachelor’s degree guaranteed a position in a graduate’s desired field only half of the time for bachelor’s degree-holders under the age of 25. The other 50 percent of young college graduates in the United States are either unemployed or underemployed, working in part-time and/or low-skill positions.

The Mountain West region, including Colorado, has the highest percentage of jobless or underemployed young degree-holders, at 60 percent, according to The Associated Press.

Some students are looking to increase their odds of finding a dream job by searching outside the area. Derek West, who will walk Saturday with the university’s first nine graduates from the CMU-University of Colorado mechanical engineering partnership program, said he hasn’t searched for jobs much yet but is confident his in-demand degree will earn him a spot somewhere. He’s looking here as well as in bigger markets in Denver, Virginia and possibly California.

“There are jobs here, they’re just filling up quickly,” West said.

Jill Cordova, head of the university’s kinesiology department, said she tells her students they may want to stay in Grand Junction for the outdoor opportunities, but they will find more opportunities in the health and fitness job market if they branch out. Graduates in all departments also can improve their chances of finding a job if they have something other than a degree on their résumé, she said.

“The ability to make connections while in school is huge,” Cordova said. “Networking is huge, but also internships and doing practicum sites.”

CMU Business Instructor and Phi Beta Lambda Adviser Deb Parnum said upperclassmen in the business student organization have networked with local businesspeople at events sponsored by the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce for the last five years. Although the students attend the events to make connections to promote Phi Beta Lambda, Parnum said the connections made at those events have helped students find internships and eventually jobs in some cases.

The Chamber is hoping to create more connections between students and local businesses through the recently created Future Workforce Committee. Chamber President and Chief Executive Officer Diane Schwenke said the future of Grand Junction’s workforce depends on businesses welcoming more students and recent graduates to intern at local companies.

“It gives them a leg up and it also gives the employer a chance to really try out somebody” before hiring them full-time, Schwenke said.

Those connections won’t help every job-seeker, though. With the local employment rate at 9.5 percent as of March, Schwenke said seasoned professionals who have experience on top of a degree will be hard to edge out for a job. Most of the 235 job orders currently listed by the Mesa County Workforce Center require a minimum of a year’s experience, according to Workforce Center Business Services Manager Suzie Miller, which makes gaining experience outside the classroom while in school even more important.

“In certain sectors, employers are saying real-world experience can be just as critical as a degree,” Miller said.

Some students will seek another degree before they seek a job. That’s a likely track for graduates with a bachelor’s in a liberal arts major such as history, according to Colorado Mesa Psychology Professor Jessica Herrick, who oversees the departments of social and behavioral sciences. Herrick said more students are heading away from “interest-based” majors toward “skill-based” degrees, which is why the university is adding a minor in social work this fall. That movement correlates with The Associated Press’ finding that zoology, anthropology, philosophy, art history and humanities graduates are the least-likely to find jobs related to their degrees.

The odds of finding a job increase for computer science, accounting, nursing and teaching graduates. Valerie Dobbs, head of CMU’s teacher education department, said she’s not worried about her graduates finding jobs because so many baby boomers are retiring from education. But Dobbs said many teacher education students are still waiting to hear where they will land a job this fall as districts scramble this month and next month to figure out how much money they will have in their budgets for new positions.

“In the past, a lot of them had job offers by this time,” Dobbs said. This year, “They have interviews lined up and they are waiting for them to happen. It is nerve-wracking.”

Students in any program who do not have a job lined up by the time they don their caps and gowns this weekend should not panic, Parnum said.

“If you’re not settled into a job after graduation, don’t worry. It usually takes four to six months before graduates are settled in the jobs they’re looking for,” she said.


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