When Leslie Faison started a master's program in criminal justice, it seemed like a good idea to quit work and attend school full time. She wanted to spend more time with her young daughter and, with the economy doing well, finding another job did not sound very difficult.
Yesterday, looking radiant in her cap and gown at a University of Baltimore graduation ceremony, Faison said that she wished that she had hung on to her job and studied part time. She's having a hard time finding a job in the grim economic climate - many of the agencies to which she has applied are under a hiring freeze, and the others are flooded with applicants.
The 36-year-old Gwynn Oak resident said she's not picky. "I'll go wherever the field takes me. I'll take anything I can get."
At yesterday's commencement, 575 graduates waved their diplomas triumphantly as relatives cheered and snapped photos. But many confided that they were concerned about finding work in a recession that has left 11 million Americans out of a job. Unemployment rose to a whopping 7.2 percent last month, and 2.6 million jobs were lost last year - the highest total in a single year since 1945.
Graduates said they were pleased with the university's practical, career-oriented programs and were grateful to have a degree that made them more competitive. Yet even the most successful students say finding work is daunting. Some have resigned themselves to stay at jobs that are less than ideal while waiting for something to open up. Others are buying time by enrolling in a graduate program. Nearly all said that they hadn't expected to encounter such a difficult job market when they began their studies.
"I'm a little discouraged right now, to be honest," said Sierra Waters, 23, an East Baltimore resident who graduated with a bachelor's degree in business administration. She has been looking for an accounting job for weeks. She has posted her resume on numerous Web sites, sent in applications and sought help from the university's career center. But she has received no offers.
Her fiance, Eugene Chase, 24, also graduated with a degree in business administration. He has a job as an income tax accountant that will last until April, but he has nothing lined up after tax day. In the fall, he will begin a master's in business administration program at UB, in the hope that the advanced degree will make him more competitive.
Both said they were a little worried that they would not find anything before they must start paying back their student loans. Chase said he owes about $22,000 for his education, and Waters said she borrowed $15,000.
Keynote speaker Tom Condon, a football agent and graduate of the university's law school, and University of Baltimore President Robert L. Bogomolny each mentioned the economy in their remarks to the graduates of the Yale Gordon College of Liberal Arts and the Merrick School of Business.
Condon said they would enter a job market characterized by "significant uncertainty." But he contended that those who have grown up with constantly evolving technology are better prepared than previous generations to deal with change.
As Bogomolny donned his robes before the ceremony, he had said that he wished that the economic climate were better. But he said their UB credentials made the graduates attractive candidates. "If I have to send people out in to this market, I'm glad that they're going out with a good background."
At the event, he spoke of "great challenges" nationally and globally. "It is a time of great flux and, some would say, crisis. It's a time that requires the best from all of us," Bogomolny said. "I am hopeful that you will use the knowledge and skills you developed at the University of Baltimore to benefit not just yourself but the community around you."
Friends have warned Rebecca Santiago, 24, that she'll be job-hunting for at least three or four months. Santiago, who earned a bachelor's degree in international business, said many of her friends who finished last spring took positions with temporary agencies after fruitless searches.
A single mother who held down a part-time job while taking classes, Santiago said that she has been networking with UB alumni, researching companies that interest her and completing practice interviews. She has also enrolled in a second bachelor's program in economic development.
"I told my family it seems worth it just to stay in school a little longer," Santiago said.