Some degrees better in the rough economy



May 12

GED graduates

7 p.m. at Brownson Arena

Class size: 65

Last year: 61

Keynote speaker: Gordon Harbert

Valedictorian: Lynda Anne Sweangen

May 15

Mesa State College

8:30 a.m. at Stocker Stadium

Class size: 1,225

Last year: 880

Keynote speakers: Jackie Roberts and Stephanie Nisbit, representing 14 students with 4.0 GPAs.

May 17

Central High School

8:30 a.m. at Stocker Stadium

Class size: 340

Last year: 336

Keynote speaker: Denny Norris

Valedictorian: Axel Urie

Salutatorian: Rebecca Singley

Palisade High School

6:30 p.m. at Stocker Stadium

Class size: 205

Last year: 195

Keynote speaker: Ann Conaway

Valedictorian: John Frederick Tiongco Hyde

Salutatorian: David Mok-Lamme

May 18

Grand Junction High School

8:30 a.m. at Stocker Stadium

Class size: 338

Last year: 313

Student speakers: Jessa Topai, Michael Gebhard and Sean Silva.

Valedictorian: TBA

Salutatorian: TBA

Fruita Monument High School

7 p.m. at Stocker Stadium

Class size: 418

Last year: 401

Keynote speaker: Linda Gallet

Valedictorian: Chad Hotimsky

May 20

Gateway High School

6 p.m. at Gateway Community Center

Class size: 1

Last year: 1

May 21

R-5 High School

9:30 a.m. at Brownson Arena

Class size: 90-plus

Last year: 92

Keynote speakers: Five members of student body.

May 22

DE Beque High School

2 p.m. in the high school gymnasium

Class size: 5

Last year: 6

Keynote speaker: None

Valedictorian: Lexxi Varner

Salutatorian: Mercedes White

Plateau Valley High School

11 a.m. in the high school auditorium

Class size: TBD

Last year: 23

Keynote speaker: Ruth Shepardson

Valedictorian: TBD

Salutatorian: TBD

May 28

Mesa Valley Vision Home and Community Program

2 p.m. at the Courtyard Marriott

Class size: 7

Last year: 12

In a county where nearly one in 10 working-age residents is looking for work, getting hired may seem a daunting task for Mesa State College’s class of 2010.

An open invitation to the job of one’s choice is a rare gem anywhere in the United States right now. But the type of degree a Mesa State student graduates with Saturday may mean the difference between sitting in an office waiting room with a handful of other applicants and standing in an interview line a mile long, if there is a job opening at all.

As of Wednesday, the Mesa County Workforce Center had one job order for every 36 education job applicants in its system and one job order for every 51 business and finance applicants. For social services jobs, the ratio was one job order for every 118 applicants, and for construction and extraction jobs, one job order for every 158 applicants.

Nursing applicants arguably have some of the best odds of finding a job in Mesa County, with 35 applicants for every health care or health care- support job order registered with the work force center. But with some experienced nurses returning to the field when a spouse loses income and others holding on to build a nest egg, recent nursing graduates have a lot of competition for jobs.

Nursing students can often find jobs, according to Mesa State Nursing and Radiologic Science Director Kristy Reuss. They are just more likely to find them in nursing homes and physician offices than at large hospitals.

“They’re having to take more of the entry-level jobs right now,” Reuss said of her 2010 graduates.

Tiffany Martens will walk across the stage during Mesa State’s graduation Saturday with a nursing degree in hand and an employer ready for her to start. Martens said not all of her classmates have been hired, but she was lucky to have a successful interview recently.

“I got the job four days later,” she said.

Fellow nursing senior and soon-to-be-graduate Deborah Courtney hasn’t been as lucky.

“There are prospects out there, but I haven’t found any that don’t require experience,” she said.

Courtney said she’s starting to look for positions outside the Grand Valley, a step taken by many recent graduates she knows.

Music major Jayme Mazon plans to move to Denver in a year to begin a career as a performer and voice teacher. In the meantime, she plans to spend the next year of post-college life continuing her work as a phlebotomist at St. Mary’s Hospital.

Mazon said her options in Grand Junction for a music performance career would be limited even if the economy were better, but she said finding a job is probably “a little bit scary” for any graduate.

“I think it’s probably universal for most people, it’s going to be hard to find a job,” Mazon said.

Youth is not an asset in today’s job market, or at least national unemployment rates make it appear that way. Age and unemployment have a negative correlation, with the March unemployment rate ranging from 29.6 percent for 16- and 17-year-olds to 6.9 percent for people 55 or older. For job seekers ages 20 to 24, the unemployment rate was 15.8 percent in March, up from 14 percent a year earlier.

There is some good news, though. In April, the National Association of Colleges and Employers released a report showing employers expect to hire 5.3 percent more new college graduates in spring 2010 than they did in spring 2009. When the class of 2009 was preparing to don caps and gowns, the association released a report saying employers planned to hire 22 percent fewer recent college graduates than they did in spring 2008.

Better picture in 2010

Nearly three out of five employers that responded to the association’s survey said they plan to hire more or the same amount of new college graduates this fall than they did in fall 2009.

The most job offers for this year’s graduates are coming from accounting, engineering and retail or wholesale trade companies, according to the association. Mesa State accounting professor David Rogers said his students are getting jobs, just not as quickly as they did in past years.

“Some have got their jobs now. But some, the best they’re hoping for is November, October,” Rogers said. “(Accounting) businesses are saying, ‘This is our slow season, we’re not going to take a risk.’ “

Accounting majors have it a bit easier in today’s job market, but finding a position is tight for everyone, Mesa State accounting professor Geoffrey Gurka said.

“I don’t think I’ve seen a market this bad for graduates overall since I graduated in 1981,” he said.

Gurka said the early 1980s was a poor time to graduate with a liberal arts undergraduate degree. When he saw friends with better grades than he had getting jobs as retail salesmen after college, he decided to go to graduate school. He graduated with a master’s degree in accounting in 1983.

Graduate school is an increasingly popular direction for English majors to go if they don’t have a teaching license, according to Mesa State English professor Barry Laga. Laga said he encourages students who choose to go into the labor force instead of applying to graduate schools to think beyond their major.

“Nobody is advertising: ‘We need English majors.’ But they do want people that can articulate well and write well,” Laga said.

Although times are tough in the construction industry, Charles Gains, head of Mesa State’s construction-management program, said every 2010 graduate of the program has a job. Because it’s a newer program at the college, there is only one construction-management graduate this year, and she’s going to work for FCI Constructors.

Gains said there are four main things each graduate looks for when applying for jobs: location, salary, type of position and type of work involved in the position.

“I think students today are still going to get two out of four of those things,” he said.

Value of internships

Gains said construction-management students have the advantage of showing employers what they can do during internships.

Education students have the same opportunity to show off their skills to school districts during student teaching, said Valerie Dobbs, head of the Mesa State Teacher Education Department. Although layoffs in some districts mean other districts have a better chance of picking up experienced teachers, Dobbs said she is heartened by positive feedback on her students from districts in or near the Grand Valley.

“Does it mean absolutely everyone will have a job by the time they graduate? Probably not,” she said.

It’s not impossible to find a job, according to Mesa County Workforce Center Supervisor Gilbert Lujan. It’s just competitive. Some employers are looking for experience. Others are willing to take a less experienced person for less pay.

Finding employment in 2010 may be a struggle, but Lujan said graduates should be proud they’ve earned a lifelong asset.

“Things are bound to look up again, and you’ll still have that degree, and that’s a good thing,” he said.


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