Iowa graduates see bright job outlook

'We have a great caliber of students ... and people know that'

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Having just turned 21, with an entire year of college remaining, Iowa State University design student Brenna Lyden in August landed a coveted first post-graduation job as a Nordstrom Inc. buyer.

Fellow ISU senior Colin Behr, 23, a few months later secured his dream job designing footwear for Nike Sportswear in Portland.

After first-generation University of Iowa student Tyler Hackman, 21, turns his tassel, he’ll head to Des Moines to launch his career as a marketing coordinator for Prositions — a new fast-growing start-up aimed at helping companies attract and retain talent.

And those students are not alone in feeling optimistic about their career aspirations as new graduates from Iowa’s public universities. As seniors at ISU and University of Northern Iowa prepare to cross the stage this weekend — followed by UI students next weekend — career experts for the institutions say their job prospects are good.

“We have a great caliber of students who graduate, and people know that,” said Angi McKie, director of marketing and operations for the UI Pomerantz Career Center. “Even when things were less good related to job prospects, things still were good.”

Iowa State expects to graduate 4,365 students during its spring commencement ceremonies — including those earning undergraduate and graduate degrees — and the UI’s total graduates are anticipated to reach 5,085. UNI’s spring graduation total is 1,659, according to spokesman Scott Ketelsen.

Employers nationwide plan to hire 8.3 percent more new college graduates from the class of 2015 for their U.S. operations than they did from the class of 2014, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers 2015 job outlook report.

And job placement rates at each of Iowa’s public universities is expected to stay strong, according to institution officials. The UI’s most recent job placement report, updated through summer 2014, had 94.7 percent of graduates after six to seven months either employed or pursuing more education — with a few not seeking employment.

Iowa State’s most recent job placement report, through 2014, had its placement rate at more than 94.7 percent — the same as the UI’s. And UNI’s placement rate, updated through 2014, had graduates placed at a rate of 97 percent.

The schools count both full- and part-time jobs in their placement figures.

“We collected some on-the-spot surveys from business graduates in the last week or so and already, at that point, 56 percent of them had jobs and 20 percent were going to grad school,” McKie said. “That’s really great. And anecdotally I’ve heard a lot about interviews going on and students debating between different offers.”

‘Getting some best practices’

New research published in late April by the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institution, a not-for-profit public policy organization, evaluated the value that public and private two- and four-year colleges and universities add to their graduates’ degrees. The study analyzed the value added with respect to economic success of graduates by assessing incomes, occupations and loan repayment rates.

It measured the difference between actual alumni outcomes for an institution and predicted outcomes for institutions with similar characteristics and students. In Iowa, six four-year institutions ranked in the top 50th percentile for earnings — including ISU and UI.

Two of Iowa’s two-year colleges received earnings scores in the top 50th percentile.

Using a scoring system of 1 to 100, the report gave ISU an earnings score of 77 — explaining that actual median midcareer earnings for ISU graduates is $84,600, about 17.2 percent higher than predicted for a school of its type with its kind of students.

The UI received an earnings score of 59, according to the report, because its graduates’ actual median midcareer earnings of $82,100 was about 11.6 percent above the predicted for its type of institution.

UNI received a lower earnings score of just 19, as the report says actual earnings are 1.3 percent below predicted earnings. UNI’s loan repayment score was higher at 71.

Siddharth Kulkarni, senior research assistant at the Metropolitan Policy Program and co-author of the Brookings study, said this research is different from other reports in that it controls for different aspects and characteristics of institutions and their students — such as test scores and family income.

“This looks at what schools are contributing the most to the actual student bodies,” he said. “It’s what the school can take credit for versus what they just happen to have because of their student body.”

The hope, Kulkarni said, is to provide new information for employers, students, parents and educators seeking to improve their post-graduation job prospects.

“We hope they can look at the data and get a sense of what schools are doing the right kinds of things,” he said. “They can open the hood, take a look, and that might be very useful in terms of getting some best practices.”

‘The demand for talent’

Mike Gaul, director of ISU Agriculture and Life Sciences Career Services, said post-graduation success rates are among the university’s top priorities.

“The starting salaries some of these kids are going into truly are amazing,” Gaul said. “Anyone who says there’s no money in ag is crazy. They have really risen over the past 20 years, and that’s because of the demand for talent out there.”

Every October, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences holds a career day, and Gaul said the number of companies interested in attending has grown from 176 in 2011 to 269 in 2014 — the most ever. That jump came despite a “doom and gloom” period for the industry last summer, Gaul said.

“I was not expecting that,” he said. “But that is telling me they are looking for employees and hold students at ISU in pretty high regard.”

P.J. Frederick, an ISU senior majoring in agriculture and business, said he’s experienced that firsthand. The 22-year-old soon-to-be graduate has had a job lined up since October. He’ll be moving to Iowa City to work in sales for Dow Agro Sciences and said it’s exactly where he wants to be.

“It’s what I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” he said.

Frederick said most of his friends and classmates also are planning to head right to work after graduation.

“There are very few people in my graduating class that don’t have jobs,” he said. “I live with four guys my age, and they all have been placed.

“Almost everyone I know has been placed.”

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