With the coronavirus racking the job market, some colleges are working overtime to find paid positions for the class of 2020
By Francesca Fontana and Amber Burton, The Wall Street Journal, May 21, 2020
Matthew Garza is graduating from Colby College this month. Like many members of the class of 2020, he doesn’t have a job lined up. But unlike many of his peers, he isn’t too worried.
That’s because Colby, a private liberal-arts college in Waterville, Maine, has pledged to find a job, internship or fellowship for every senior within 90 days of graduation by asking alumni to hire them.
“It’s really reassuring to know that they’re making sure we’re not being thrown into the wind,” says Mr. Garza, who majored in government and philosophy and has been looking for work in consulting.
With the class of 2020 entering a job market ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic, many colleges and their alumni associations are stepping up to help, tapping their extensive networks of former graduates to create job-matching programs for seniors who have yet to find positions.
The efforts are aimed at sparing the class of 2020 from the lasting effects of graduating into a recession. College grads who entered the job market during the early 1980s recession had, 15 years after graduation, wages that were 2.5% lower than graduates who didn’t start out in a slowdown, according to research by Lisa Kahn, a University of Rochester economist.
Of Colby’s 500 graduating seniors, 300 were still searching for jobs when the school started its Pay It Northward initiative earlier this month. In past years, the college says, about 95% of Colby graduates have been employed by the end of the summer after graduation. “It’s going to be hard to imagine that will still be the case unless we do something drastic,” says David Greene, Colby’s president. “When you’re a fresh grad, the alumni network is really the only one you have.”
Pay It Northward is using Colby’s network of 30,000 alumni, as well as parents and other members of the Colby community, to match new grads with any jobs, internships and fellowships that the alums or their employers can provide. So far, the campaign has elicited about 450 responses that have yielded more than 500 opportunities for students in the senior class, Mr. Greene says.
Other schools are expanding internship programs amid the pandemic, leaning on alumni to provide students with short-term paid projects, some which can be done remotely.
The University of Chicago in April expanded its Micro-Metcalf program, which matches students with “micro-internships” that typically take 20 to 40 hours to complete. The offerings include writing grants for food banks and processing mortgage closings. Students are paid either directly by the employer or by grant from the university.
“Our alumni are really stepping up,” says Meredith Daw, associate vice president of career advancement at the University of Chicago. Nearly all of this spring’s 550 Metcalf projects were funded or facilitated by alumni and donors, and many students have been getting extensions from employers to continue working with them, the school says.
In addition to offering micro-internships, the University of Colorado Boulder’s Leeds School of Business has joined with alumni and local business leaders on a new mentorship program designed to help graduating seniors and recent business-school grads find work. The “Adopt-a-Buff” program, which launched in April and is named for the university’s buffalo mascot, pairs recent grads with a mentor who helps them make professional connections, identify job opportunities and even prepare for interviews.
“We have a very engaged business and alumni community who were asking how they could help out,” says Sharon Matusik, dean of the Leeds School of Business.
Since the program’s launch, graduates have found jobs at companies ranging from Lockheed Martin to a small marketing firm, Ms. Matusik says.
Meanwhile, Jennifer Duncan, an alumni career adviser at the University of Colorado Boulder, says her office realized as early as March that soon-to-be grads were going to need extra assistance finding jobs. It responded by launching a weekly virtual job-search group in late March in which graduating seniors gather remotely to hear job-search tips and get information on job openings and other postgrad opportunities.
Anywhere from 20 to 80 people attend each week, she says, adding that demand for job-search help has increased from alumni, as well.
Anna Ritz, a graduating senior at the university, had hoped to work in public relations for a large company before the pandemic took hold. Now, she says she would be happy simply to get her foot in the door somewhere.
“There’s a lot of that ‘would have been’ talk,” she says, adding that she has moved past the disappointment phase. Ms. Ritz says she is encouraged by the guidance she has received from young alumni and says there are still some opportunities to be found using the college’s career services.
While some schools are offering extra career support, others are providing recent graduates with financial assistance to ease any Covid-19 related challenges they may face as they transition into work life.
Using a $2 million donation from a consortium of alumni formed in 2019, Eastern Michigan University is giving each of its 2,200-plus spring graduates a monetary gift of $599.
Graduates can use the money for any purpose, says Denis Wolcott, a spokesperson for GameAbove, the alumni group funding the program. The goal was to brighten spirits and to show recent graduates that the alumni have their backs, he says.
Recent graduate Heather Irvine recalled jogging past the school’s empty convocation center on the morning of what would have been her graduation day. Thinking about that moment still makes her emotional, she says.
The following Monday Ms. Irvine opened her email to find the gift from GameAbove. “I opened up my email and I freaked out,” she says. “How many times in your life do you open a $600 email?”
For her, the gift brought hope and demonstrated that the alumni were “walking the walk” by giving back. She donated 10% of the gift back to the university’s student emergency fund and saved the rest. “The money won’t last long, but the sentiment will,” Ms. Irvine says.