Fast-track grads

Students in an accelerated SOU program are a step ahead of their peers, but face a still-soft job market
Michael Culp earned his degree at Southern Oregon University in three years and now hopes to enter the banking industry. Julia Moore / Mail TribuneJulia Moore

If Southern Oregon University's 1,230 graduates of 2012 reflect the national statistics for new grads under the age of 25, about half will be unemployed or underemployed following their departure from school.

Employment experts and students themselves say that finding work will depend as much on the graduates as it does on the economy.

SOU 2012 Commencement

Southern Oregon University graduation ceremonies begin at 8:45 a.m. today at Raider Stadium, with gates opening at 7 a.m.

There will be free parking in all SOU lots during commencement and a free shuttle will run from the Mountain Avenue parking lot to the stadium approximately every 15 minutes.

This year's commencement speaker is William R. Cook, distinguished teaching professor of history at the State University of New York at Geneseo, where he has taught for 42 years.

This morning, SOU is handing those students their degrees and certificates during a graduation ceremony that begins at 8:45 at Raider Stadium.

"It depends on a person's background, skills, what their major is "… and it depends on a person's individual situation," says Guy Tauer, regional economist for the Oregon Employment Department. "And, it's one of those questions that really depends on where a person is willing to go to find employment."

According to an analysis of federal labor statistics and the 2011 Current Population Survey data by Northeastern University, and other economic experts, about 54 percent of the 3 million bachelor's degree holders under the age of 25 in the United States were unemployed or underemployed.

In 2000, about 41 percent of those degree holders were in the same boat, The Associated Press reports.

"It's a fairly soft job market," Tauer says, while noting today's graduates aren't up against what those entering the job market in 2005 and 2006 were facing.

"It's come down from its recessionary peak, but unemployment rates, in general, are at historically high points," he says. "But it's certainly an improvement from two years ago, and last year."

According to the United States Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, national unemployment dropped by less than 1 percentage point, to 7.9 percent, between May 2011 and last month. The rate in Oregon was 8.4 percent in May.

SOU graduates Michael Culp and Melody Condon say those statistics don't scare them.

Both students are graduating today from SOU's accelerated baccalaureate program, which allows student to complete college in three years instead of four. The program is one of only a few at public universities in the West.

"The money was definitely a major factor in my decision," says 20-year-old Condon, who will receive a bachelor's degree in English and writing. "There is also something neat about the idea of graduating when you're 20."

Condon, who is moving to Talent from Ashland today, works in Medford as a Zumba instructor to supplement her new career as a freelance copy editor.

She has a few clients, she says, and recently launched a website, melodyediting.com, which she designed to develop business.

"With tuition going up, certainly more people want to graduate faster, get into the workforce quicker, or move on to graduate school," says Jim Beaver, SOU director of interactive marketing and communications.

Meagan DeNeui, program assistant for the baccalaureate program at SOU, says the university will graduate 13 accelerated students this year, and currently has about 50 in the program.

"It is popular, but, the real challenge is that not everybody who is graduating from high school has their plan for life totally together," Beaver says.

One of the program's requirements is that students select a major and graduate within the three years allotted, with few exceptions granted, says DeNeui.

Accelerated students end up saving about 25 percent on the cost of their educations, she says, and, depending on high school classes completed, can have up to 45 credits knocked off their degree requirements.

"The world kind of seems to be waking up to the fact that this is a great way for students to save money, major money," says DeNeui, who is working to promote the program at SOU. "They don't have to work harder than a normal student, but they have to be more focused."

Condon and Culp were named the Dankook Outstanding Undergraduate Woman and Man of the Year for 2012, at SOU.

Culp, 23, who received his degree in economics, already has a few interviews lined up, he says, at banks in the Rogue Valley.

"It's nice to be done and into the industry I want to work in," he says.

Culp, who worked for a few years out of high school, says he didn't want to be in school for another four years after being laid off from his job when Circuit City closed.

"I just wanted to get it done," he says, estimating he's saved more than $10,000 by finishing in three years.

According to the Oregon University System, about 72 percent of SOU's 2009 graduates had $26,000 in debt to go with their degrees. Those statistics have yet to be published for the past two years, but a 2009 full-time student at SOU was paying about $5,718 per year, and next year that student will pay $7,521. If the debt level is proportionate to annual costs, current grads would average just more than $34,000 in debt.

The Associated Press reports that government projections show that by 2020 only three of the 30 occupations with the largest projected number of job openings will require a bachelor's degree or higher. The three are teachers, college professors and accountants. Most job openings will be in professions such as retail sales, fast food and truck driving.

According to the same projections, zoology, anthropology, philosophy, art history and humanities majors are least likely to find jobs that pertain to their degrees. Students with nursing, teaching, accounting or computer science degrees are the most likely to find matching jobs.

Sam Wheeler is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-499-1470 or email swheeler@dailytidings.com.



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