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Good news for college seniors: The job market is booming

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

All right. Just about to graduate from college and looking for a job? Actually great timing. The growing competition for graduates is allowing for earlier job offers, higher starting wages and more control during the hiring process. Rich Kremer from Wisconsin Public Radio reports.

RICH KREMER, BYLINE: The final months before college graduation can be a time of anxious job searches and streams of outgoing resumes. That's not the case for University of Wisconsin-River Falls senior Nissy Obasi. The computer science and economics double major accepted an offer in August to become an investment analyst with Deutsche Bank in New York.

NISSY OBASI: I've had the chance to really enjoy senior year without having that on my back.

KREMER: Her advice to other students who may still be looking - don't be afraid to counter an offer because you may have the upper hand.

OBASI: I feel like negotiation skills, not a lot of people have them. So if you're given an offer for 100k, you just take it. You can get that to 120k and maybe throw something on top. You can just negotiate.

KREMER: A spring survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers shows businesses planning to boost college grad recruitment by more than 30% this year. That's the sharpest year-to-year increase in at least a decade.

JOSHUA KAHN: This is an even hotter period for recruiters than they thought it was going to be in the fall.

KREMER: Josh Kahn is assistant director of research for the group. He says recruiters are keenly aware of increasing competition for college grads. Their average starting salary is projected to top $50,000.

KAHN: They know that they need to make good offers. They know that they need to raise wages and benefits to make attractive offers, competitive offers.

KREMER: Taylor Schmidtfranz is a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, who landed a teaching job in April just one day after her first interview.

TAYLOR SCHMIDTFRANZ: February and March, I was kind of freaking out a little because I'm like, what am I doing with my life? Like, where am I going to live and all that stuff? But it feels really good. I feel ready to graduate now.

KREMER: Even for seniors like U.W. Eau Claire's Hannah Leah (ph), graduating without a job offer isn't that scary.

HANNAH LEAH: It's a really big job market right now, so I'm not really too concerned, especially because there's, like, a teacher shortage and they're paying people to go back to school to become teachers because they need them so bad.

KREMER: The national unemployment rate for those with at least a four-year degree was 2% in March. The unemployment rate for those with high school diplomas was twice that. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York reported a record pay gap last year of $22,000 between those with bachelor degrees and those without.

JIM KWAPICK: With a college degree, your ability to be employed is greatly enhanced.

KREMER: That's Jim Kwapick, district director for international talent recruiting company Robert Half.

KWAPICK: Many employers are getting out ahead of the graduating class, and they're locking students in well before they graduate, unlike it's ever been.

KREMER: But college enrollment has fallen since 2020. Elise Gould with the Economic Policy Institute says the pandemic added new roadblocks for many minority and lower income potential students who may not have been able to come up with tuition.

ELISE GOULD: That's just not accessible to many people across the country.

KREMER: As the race to recruit college students heats up, those watching the trends expect things to cool, though they're not sure how or when. In the meantime, those nearing graduation appear to be calling the shots in today's hiring economy, and they know it.

For NPR News, I'm Rich Kremer in Eau Claire.

(SOUNDBITE OF UNWED SAILOR'S "AJO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Richard Kremer
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