High school, college seniors re-evaluate options

Jacob Button a senior Mass Communications major at Mesa State College is weary of the Job market.

Their parents didn’t face these challenges. For that matter, their older siblings and friends didn’t.

The economic obstacles and uncertainties that surfaced in the past year are new, and this spring’s graduating classes are the first to face the harsh realities.

During the next two weeks, thousands of local graduates will be released into the next stage of life, and many are closely eyeing their options. Is attending an out-of-state college too expensive? For that matter, can they afford in-state tuition? What about learning a trade or heading to graduate school? Should I enlist in the military? And, how do I pay for it all?

The world for this graduating class began to unravel last spring, when a mortgage crisis rocked the financial sector. That was followed by drastic plunges in the stock market. Jobs began evaporating thanks to the ensuing recession, with those losses even trickling down locally to the once-hearty energy industry.

Eighteen-year-old Caleb Vega already adjusted his future plans.

Vega, who graduates Wednesday from Central High School, had his heart set on attending a seminary in Florida. However, with tuition of $7,000 for a nine-month program and credits that would not transfer toward an associate degree, Vega started to weigh his wants versus needs. He’ll now attend Mesa State College and complete some prerequisites before considering specialized schooling.

“It’s kind of pricey for something that wouldn’t transfer,” he reasoned. “I’d have the experience, but really, how much would it have been worth?”

In District 51, an estimated 1,367 graduates will stride across a stage and accept
diplomas at ceremonies throughout the week. Meanwhile, 880 Mesa State College students graduate Saturday.

Already, inquiries and applications for Mesa State College have soared compared to past years, college spokeswoman Dana Nunn said.

Groups touring the campus have swarmed the new admissions building, said Nathan Watchman, assistant director of admissions.

More of those prospective students are in-state high school students and transferring college students from higher-priced universities around the state, probably looking for a break on tuition costs, Watchman said.

“I think the economy is affecting students,” he said. “They’re not traveling out of state as much, and (they’re) looking harder at schools in state.”

Registration at Western Colorado Community College has doubled from this time last year, college Vice President Lynn Woellhof said. That’s significant because it precedes an expected surge in August when many prospective students register. Much of the student body includes part-time students coming back to school to learn a trade or to squeeze in a class or two.

“It’s off the Richter scale,” Woellhof said of student numbers. “Historically when the economy goes down, people go back to school. We hope that tradition is alive and well.”

Getting an education, though, isn’t a sure bet on landing a job, 21-year-old Jacob Button can attest. Even though he worked as operations manager for a year at the college radio station, KMSA-FM, Button, who graduates Saturday from Mesa State, had trouble finding even an unpaid internship as a disc jockey. The mass communications major did land one, though, at a station in Salt Lake City. He’ll live with family members to offset living costs.

Button said he hesitated even to ask for a paid internship because it might have hindered his chances at being hired at all. He’s hoping the internship will be a foot-in-the-door approach to a paid position.

“I want to get paid,” he said, taking a break Thursday from studying for finals. “This is what

I’m really hoping for. When I was in high school, all the teachers said, ‘Go to college. It’s a sure way to get a job. Once you’re done, you’ll be rolling in money.’ I didn’t expect this.”

De Beque High School senior Joey James said he always wanted to go into the military, and he starts Marine Corps basic training in July. He talked with some of the school’s graduates from last year, who jumped straight into high-paying jobs in the oil and gas fields. After a couple months for them, those jobs dried up, and now those former grads are looking for work.

James has a four-year enlistment. He hopes to use money provided by the military to train as an emergency medical technician or a firefighter.

“It pays for a lot of stuff,” he said of the military.

Soon to receive his diploma from R-5 High School, Phillip Shroder knows the local job market is tight. The 20-year-old scoured ads and spent hours online to find his part-time job at Pizza Hut. After graduation, he will work full-time as a maintenance worker for a property-management company. After trouble with the law for using drugs, Shroder knows he needs to stay clean to be competitive in the marketplace.

“I have so many bills, it’s not even funny,” he said. 

Shroder said he’s thankful to be the recipient of an Alpine Bank scholarship, which provides $500 a year toward his education. He plans to earn a culinary degree at Western Colorado Community College and hopes to one day be a chef on a cruise line, traveling the world.

Shroder said he isn’t about to let the recession get him down. Although friends assured him getting his GED would be good enough, he insisted on earning his diploma. It matters little that he’ll be one of the older graduates in his class Friday.

“Little girls dream of their wedding day,” Shroder said. “I’ve dreamt of my graduation more or less my whole senior year. It’s been more than I can ask for.”


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