America's Improving Economy as Seen From Academia

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The recent September jobs report indicating a significant decrease in the national unemployment rate from 8.1 percent to 7.8 percent has been viewed with skepticism by some, no doubt fueled in large measure by the timing of this report in the middle of the current election campaign season. From my perspective as President of Rochester Institute of Technology, however, the improvement in overall employment in the U.S. is consistent with a significant uptick in corporate interest in our graduates. Let me explain:

RIT produces large numbers of trained professionals in areas such as engineering, science, technology, business, design, IT, computing, and other career-oriented majors. As a result, the campus has always been attractive to significant numbers of corporations, federal agencies, and non-profit organizations searching for new employees, and even during the current recession more than 90 percent of our students have found employment in their chosen field or have pursued graduate work full-time after graduation. During the recession, however, fewer companies were hiring full-time employees and our graduates took longer to find jobs and felt lucky when they finally received a job offer. But this year, beginning at our Spring career fair, the number of companies recruiting on campus began to increase and more than 240 employers were on campus for our Fall career fair held on Sept. 26, a week before the latest jobs report was released. This is a 20 percent increase over the number visiting for our Fall 2010 career fair during the peak of the current recession.

RIT career fairs are a big event on campus, with prospective recruiters setting up booths in our cavernous field house and thousands of students going from booth to booth to talk to them. This fall, the number of employers seeking to come to our career fair exceeded the space available to accommodate them, and for the first time we had to decline access to a number of companies and organizations. Each year I try to find time to walk around our two annual fairs to talk to the company representatives about their hiring plans, and this fall I noticed that practically every employer I spoke with was trying to hire multiple full-time employees to meet their expanding business needs. This was a marked improvement from previous fairs held earlier in the recession.

Usually, college career fairs are a chance for employers to talk briefly to students and to obtain resumes for further perusal. The recruiters then return to their companies or agencies to discuss possible candidates and determine whom to invite to visit the employer for a formal interview. But this fall, more than 100 companies stayed on campus for a second day to conduct immediate formal interviews with students, again an increase of more than 20 percent compared to Fall 2010. Moreover, many of our students reported that they had received multiple invitations to visit companies for additional interviews, and a fair number had actually been offered jobs immediately after talking with company representatives at the Career Fair.

Even though the unemployment rate for college graduates has been fairly low throughout the recession, and overall unemployment has been driven in part by a mismatch between the needs of employers and the talents of those seeking employment, I am still struck by the dramatic improvement in employment prospects for our graduates. And as more professionally-trained college graduates are hired, support staff are usually added as well. Finally, since attendance at college career fairs is a leading indicator of employment growth, I expect that the overall U.S. economy will continue to improve in the months ahead.