Ericka Seastrand graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2008 with a bachelor's degree in consumer science. She beat the pavement for nine months, and the only job she could get was retail sales associate at a mall.
"The market was really competitive," the 26-year-old from West Milwaukee recalled last week. "My degree was a generic business degree -- nothing technical or tangible in the skill set. So I decided to get another degree with a hard skill set."
Seastrand is one of a surprising number of 20-somethings who graduated from college in recent years, couldn't find good-paying jobs with their four-year degrees, and enrolled in a technical college to earn a second degree or diploma geared toward specific job opportunities.
In the last three years, 6.4% of the total number of degrees and diplomas awarded at Waukesha County Technical College went to 20-somethings who self-reported they had at least 16 years of education before enrolling at the technical college, according to data analysis requested by the Journal Sentinel. Twenty-somethings represented 79.5 percent of all WCTC's grads from 2009 to 2011 who already had bachelor's degrees.
The percentages of 20-somethings with bachelor's degrees who graduated during the same time from other technical colleges in the state -- Madison (5.5 percent), Milwaukee (2.9 percent), Moraine Park (2.3 percent) and Gateway (2.1 percent) -- were lower, but still noteworthy.
Connecting college degrees with jobs is a high-stakes challenge as graduates compete for fewer jobs while facing the prospect of repaying hefty student loans because financially strapped parents couldn't help pay for college, and tuition at four-year universities has risen faster than the rate of inflation.
The Legislature, starting next year, will require the University of Wisconsin System to report job placement for its grads as part of new accountability measures.
Those who are strategic from the start of college -- networking through campus activities, tapping career counseling services early and gaining practical experience through undergraduate research, volunteer work or internships -- have always been the most successful at landing jobs right away, college officials agree.
But those who aren't as purposeful in their pursuit of a career have an increasingly difficult time in this economy, though college grads overall still fare much better than those without a degree. The government reported the April unemployment rate for college grads was 4 percent, compared with 7.9 percent for high school grads.
After finishing an associate degree in graphic design with an emphasis on Web design at Madison Area Technical College last December, Seastrand, of West Milwaukee, quickly landed a job at Pilch & Barnet in Madison.
Hers is a cautionary tale.
She didn't use UW-Madison's career counseling services beyond seminars on resume writing and interview skills during her four years there. She also didn't realize the value of networking early enough. She did have opportunities to do unpaid internships, but could not afford to take them because she needed a paying job, she said.
A paid internship gained through Madison Area Technical College helped Seastrand land her Web design job at Pilch & Barnet.
Now paying off more than $50,000 in student loan debt, Seastrand's advice to graduating high school students is to be strategic about college:
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