This is the time of year when many college seniors are looking forward to graduation ceremonies surrounded by family, final nights on campus with close friends and for many career-launching first jobs.
The 2020 graduation season finds many of those prospects in doubt or cancelled altogether; the coronavirus outbreak closed campuses, moved seniors’ classes online and put some first-jobs in question.
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Bryan Borodkin, a University of Dayton student government president, will graduate with a political science degree and move on to the University of Michigan law school in the fall. But as he finishes online classes from his parents’ home outside Akron, he called the search for a summer internship “really challenging.”
“I’ve applied for upward of 30 different internships all over the nation,” Borodkin said. He is working at his neighborhood deli in the meantime. “So many of them say, we don’t know what we’re doing, employment’s on hold. … We’re dealing with laying off our own employees, not hiring new ones.”
Graduation ceremonies altered
Ohio State senior Kelly Wassum, an Alter High School graduate, said her post-graduation job with the Deloitte accounting firm in Columbus is still in place, but she hasn’t been given a firm start date yet.
One of her roommates had a summer internship canceled and another friend’s June start date for their full-time job got moved back to December. Wassum is trying to figure out a schedule for her CPA exams as testing centers have been closed.
She said the past six weeks have been strange, as she and her seven roommates finish the year together in their off-campus house. Wassum said they are holding each other accountable for finishing schoolwork and wrapping up their diplomas. But they’re also helping each other stay upbeat.
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Since their last sorority formal was canceled, Wassum said one day the roommates all put on their dresses, did their hair and makeup, turned up the music and had their own party.
“We’re also going to have our own little fake graduation ceremony where we’ll put on our caps and gowns and walk around the front yard,” she said.
Universities are holding online graduation ceremonies — Central State May 16, Dayton May 10 and Ohio State on May 3 with Apple CEO Tim Cook delivering the commencement address that will be beamed in from a remote location.
But first those schools are trying to make sure seniors get to the finish line. Wright State officials said multiple programs have made adjustments to make sure students graduate.
Seniors who were studying abroad to complete a requirement for their French language major this spring were suddenly forced home mid-semester. Kirsten Halling, professor of French at WSU, quickly created and got approved an online course on the history of Paris as a substitute, allowing those students to still graduate on time.
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The students are also helped by licensing changes statewide. Nursing and education/teaching graduates who were unable to complete normal testing because of closures will be able to begin work under temporary or provisional licenses.
Job market in turmoil
The job market that new college graduates are entering has rapidly gone from the longest economic expansion in U.S. history to having roughly 5 million new unemployment filings per week, according to Nancy Haskell, assistant professor of economics and finance at the University of Dayton.
“While the deep economic downturn hurts all workers, there’s evidence that it may hurt new entrants (like) college grads harder,” Haskell said. “In general, younger workers are often more at risk during recessions. Additionally, the small business loan forgiveness in the CARES Act is tied to maintaining/retaining (existing) employees.”
Haskell said it’s “very difficult” to predict what job markets will look like six to 24 months from now, but she expects hiring to recover slowly.
“The economic recovery will be much slower than the decline, even after it is safe to resume activity as usual,” Haskins said. “Some firms will have failed and it will take time for new ones to arise.”
Universities are trying to help their 2020 graduates deal with that job market. Lance Cauley, Wright State’s associate director of career, said his office is remotely helping students with “job search strategy, planning, document creation, networking strategy and interview preparation.”
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The spring career fair has been pushed back to September, while an education job fair was moved online. Cauley said his office contacted more than 1,100 graduating seniors by phone two weeks ago.
“Our mission in Career Services is to educate our students on which industries have needs, and prepare our students for these roles,” Cauley said.
Jason Eckert, executive director of career services at the University of Dayton, said UD’s major recruiting events with employers were mostly finished before campus was closed. Now his office is holding one-on-one advising meetings via phone or Zoom, and has weekday afternoon “virtual drop-in hours.”
They’re also implementing a weekly Zoom workshop series for students and alumni called “Taking Flight through COVID-19,” and archiving them on the university’s YouTube channel. Among the many topics are video interviewing, networking, and job searching via LinkedIn.
Borodkin said he knows seniors struggling to find jobs, and others where employers have been “incredibly understanding” in keeping offers active. But he said for most students, not being on campus with friends right now and having a sense of closure is hard, because “UD is our happy place.”
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Borodkin said he’s a very upbeat person, but added there’s a lot to be anxious about right now.
“It’s something that I try not to dwell on too much — the financials and the economy, because it stresses me out,” he said.
Wassum said Ohio State has been good about communicating regularly, but while they’re making the best of the situation, losing traditions is hard.
“It’s just sad to think, I put in four years of hard work to earn this degree. Having that giant graduation in (Ohio Stadium) with however many thousand people is that final ‘I did it’ moment,’ “ Wassum said. “Now it’s weird thinking, my classes end Friday, I’m done with college, and … that’s it.”
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