Jobs in major-related fields sparse

Josh Coffman

Christin Kingsolver received her teaching degree three months ago, but she now spends more time in the middle of the mall than at the front of a classroom.

Kingsolver, who graduated in December with a degree in English and secondary education, works part-time at Dillard’s department store in Greenwood Mall, despite her qualifications to teach.

She is among the many college graduates who are not working full-time in major-related careers.

A Western Career Services survey of May 2001 graduates, performed one year after students received their degrees, found that one-third of students who graduated didn’t find full-time work in their field upon graduating.

Career Services director Judith Owen said the numbers are on par with national figures.

Many students do not find jobs in their major because of “personal decisions” made by students upon graduating, she said.

Owen said the declining economy and employer cutbacks have also led to fewer job openings for graduates, but she expects things to turn around.

“The job market’s declined, especially post-9/11,” she said. “Employers are less likely to go out and hire a bunch of people. But there’s one advantage for students: there are always going to be shortages in areas.”

Limited by location

In Kingsolver’s case, her decision to get married, along with a lack of openings for teaching positions in the area, affected her ability to find a job.

Kingsolver is teaching part-time, substituting in Bowling Green and Warren County public schools, in addition to working at Dillard’s.

Limiting her job search to Bowling Green also limited her chances of finding full-time work, Kingsolver said.

She said she plans to move away from Bowling Green and find a teaching position elsewhere next year.

“There’s really not a lot of openings here,” she said. “I heard there are a lot of cutbacks. It’s really discouraging. But it’s easy to find work if you relocate.”

Leah Beauchamp of Owensboro graduated in December 2001 and, like Kingsolver, received a degree in secondary education, with a focus in both English and Spanish.

After graduation, Beauchamp received a promotion at the Target department store on Campbell Lane, becoming an executive team leader.

“(After graduating,) I knew I could teach,” she said. “But I may not have had the opportunity to promote in retail … I can always go back to teach.”

Finding a job

Students wanting to make sure they get the most use out of their degree should research their proposed career field thoroughly, Owen said.

Although she isn’t an advocate of encouraging students to leave the area, Owen said students have more options when they consider relocating elsewhere in the United States or in other countries.

“Some are not willing to leave, and it limits their options,” she said. “The broader your job search is and the more open you are to opportunities in the U.S. or internationally, the more likely you are to find a career in your field. The more you limit the area of search, the greater the chance you won’t find something.”

The Career Services Center offers students assistance in choosing a major, finding an internship and landing a job after graduation.

The center is limited in what it can do for students. Federal law restricts it from matching particular individuals to a specific job. It can only post the information and assist students in applying.

Success after graduation

Although the Career Services survey is not a scientific poll, it does indicate how well Western graduates assimilate into the working world after leaving the Hill. In the past three surveys, 20 percent of graduates responded.

In the 2001 survey, graduates of the Gordon Ford College of Business were the most successful, with 86.6 percent finding full-time, degree-related work. Potter College rated lowest in the survey, with only 55.2 percent finding full-time, degree-related jobs.

Robert Jefferson, dean of the Gordon Ford College of Business, attributed the business school’s success to several factors that help students prepare themselves for the work force, including establishing partnerships with businesses, preparing students for internships and inviting high-profile speakers to campus.

“A part of our culture is to help students meet people and learn about the industries,” he said.

The face of the business world is changing, Jefferson said, as businesses become more focused to an international scale. The college added an international business minor to meet such demands.

“It makes our students more competitive with others if they have knowledge of international issues,” Jefferson said. “Employers want workers who are willing to continue to learn.”

David Lee, Dean of Potter College, said he’s not concerned with the college ranking last in the Career Services’ survey. Lee said many students go to graduate school or take jobs in other fields.

“If you get a degree in history, you may teach history or work in a museum — or you may find a job in management training or a job working for the city,” he said. “Students who major in this college are usually pointed in different directions and may not be looking for a specific job. Many already know they want to attend graduate school when they enroll.”

The local solution

Todd Denham, Vice President of the Bowling Green Chamber of Commerce, works to bring more jobs to Bowling Green.

He acknowledges that “brain drain,” the effect of college-educated persons leaving their home state to find work elsewhere, is a problem the Chamber of Commerce tries to combat.

The chamber worked with companies, both new and existing, last year to create 600 jobs, Denham said.

“Every community always looks at ways to create careers in their backyards,” he said.

Half of the 600 jobs created last year came from Perot Systems, Denham said, which chose Bowling Green because of its student work force.

A joint effort between the Chamber of Commerce and Western officials helped lure Perot Systems, a consulting firm for the health care industry, to Bowling Green. The joint effort is a part of a project to establish the Center for Research and Development.

Denham said Western’s presence in the area creates a healthy environment for employment.

“Bowling Green’s very diverse,” he said. “We’re very fortunate in the variety of businesses here. Hopefully, with that variety, a lot of folks are able to find employment.”

Reach Josh Coffman at [email protected]