The class of 2015 will enter what economists say is the best job market for new college graduates in nearly a decade, as the improving US economy and accelerating retirements of baby boomers create job openings across many fields.
College and university career offices say their graduates are having a far easier time landing positions, and far more employers are coming to campuses to recruit. At the University of Massachusetts Amherst, for example, 104 companies were on campus at a fall job fair to recruit engineering and technology majors, up from 89 last year and 65 in 2010.
Perhaps more significantly, the demand for workers of all kinds was so great that the university held its biggest spring job fair in four years, attracting more than 130 employers in fields ranging from communications to consulting to sales.
“Years ago, people thought, ‘What are you going to do with a history major?’ ” said Todd Butynski, an assistant director in UMass Amherst’s Career Services office. “Now, with a little networking and initiative, even that liberal arts major is going to find something.”
Ethan Forauer, a senior at Clark University in Worcester, faced the classic conundrum of soon-to-be college graduates with little job experience: For most positions — even at entry level — candidates with experience were being sought.
But Forauer forged ahead, feeling more than a little anxiety as he networked and sent out scores of resumes in early April. A month later, the 22-year-old environmental science major accepted a $45,000-a-year job at a North Andover consulting firm. “It was very exciting, and just a huge, huge relief,” said Forauer, who begins working June 1. “I’m starting my life in the real world.”
Both the state and national unemployment rates, 4.8 and 5.4 percent, respectively, have fallen to their lowest levels since the early days of the last recession, according to the US Labor Department.
Joblessness among to 20- to 24-year-olds with college degrees has declined to about 7 percent, from just over 9 percent in 2010. That’s the lowest since 2008, the first full year of the recession, when unemployment among twentysomething college graduates averaged 6 percent.
Meanwhile, the competition for jobs has diminished. Today, about 1.5 unemployed workers compete for each job opening, compared with seven in June 2009, said Paul Harrington, director of the Center for Labor Markets and Policy at Drexel University in Philadelphia. The reason: The US economy has created some 2.5 million jobs in the past year alone.
“Almost all the net increase in jobs is in these jobs that require a college degree,” Harrington said. “Kids coming out of college are going to have a pretty good year.”
Demand is strong for business, finance, and health-care-related majors, Harrington said, but as usual, the most sought-after graduates hold degrees in so-called STEM fields: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Of the 2.5 million jobs added in the past year, one in four were in engineering, computer science, and science-related professions, the Labor Department says.
In Massachusetts, where companies offer finder’s fees and signing bonuses of $10,000 or more to land technical talent, many employers have begun recruiting STEM majors in their earliest years in college. Rebecca Baturin, for example, worked the past three summers in a paid internship at NASA in Cape Canaveral, Fla., as she earned a degree in electrical engineering at UMass Amherst.
She recently took a $47,000-a-year job at the space agency.
“In my major, most people have jobs,” said Baturin, 23, of Norwood, noting friends who accepted jobs at defense contractor Raytheon Corp. and tech giant Google Inc. “As long as you’re willing to move or try something new, it’s pretty easy to find a job with an engineering degree.”
Of the 25 best paid majors, all but two, economics and business, were in STEM fields, according to a recent report by Georgetown University .
Nationally, for those with bachelor’s degrees, petroleum engineering majors commanded a median annual salary of $136,000. Pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences majors earned a median $113,000, and mathematics grads had median earnings of $73,000.
Social work was among the lowest-paying bachelor’s degrees, with median earnings of $42,000 a year, followed by early childhood education, at $39,000, according to the Georgetown study.
In general, wages for new college graduates, as for US workers, have stagnated since the recession. On average, entry-level wages for graduates are expected to be no better than 15 years ago, according to a recent report by the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank in Washington.
But if the economy continues to expand, unemployment falls more, and labor markets tighten further, economists expect wages and salaries to rise. In Greater Boston, with one of the nation’s strongest recoveries because of its technology, health care, and higher education sectors, employee compensation recently jumped at the fastest rate since 2007. Pay and benefits rose 3.6 percent in March from a year earlier, versus 2.8 percent nationally, the Labor Department reported.
Such news is giving hope even to liberal arts majors.
John Choi of Medford said he’s been looking for work since he stopped volunteering in November for Charlie Baker’s campaign for governor. Choi received a master’s degree from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education in June after majoring in international relations at Boston College. After a frustrating winter sending as many as five resumes a day without responses, he recently fielded five interview offers in one week.
“I’m hopeful,” said Choi, 28. “People are still contacting me — there’s not just silence.”