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There’s No Place Like Home, Unless You’re a Grad Looking for First Job

March 19, 1991

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Across New England, this year’s college seniors are hearing a new version of an old refrain: Go West, young person.

With the region’s unemployment outpacing the nation’s and companies cancelling campus recruiting visits in droves, counselors are telling students they might have to leave home to pursue their chosen professions.

″I tell students, ’Get in your car and drive West,‴ said Lewis Mandell, a professor of finance at the University of Connecticut. ″I say, ’Don’t just sit here and wait for a job - if you want a job, go look in St. Louis.‴

It was Horace Greeley, founder of the New York Tribune, who told young men to go West in 1851, when the Northeast was emerging from a recession and jobs in New York City were scarce. The phrase, borrowed from an Indiana newspaperman, became a rallying cry for opportunities in the American West.

These days, career counselors say they aren’t just talking about the West. Students should also consider the South, the Midwest - anywhere there are opportunities, they say.

″You’d be stupid not to,″ said Bernie Cummins, director of career services at Bentley College in Waltham, Mass., where career counselors recently held their first-ever workshop on how to conduct a long-distance job search.

″Just looking at the Massachusetts economy the way it is, you have to explore your options,″ he said.

Colleges and universities in New England are expected to award about 80,000 bachelor’s degrees this spring, the New England Board of Higher Education says.

″Many of the students tend to be very provincial and think the world ends at the New York, Massachusetts or Rhode Island borders,″ said Giles Packer, director of career services at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain.

″What we’re telling them is, ’No, you’ve got to stop thinking like that,″ he said.

Steven Thayer is beginning to get the message. He hasn’t been able to find a job in his field since graduating from the University of Connecticut in December with an economics degree, and he’s delivering pizzas at night to support himself.

A lifelong resident of South Windsor, he’s not enthusiastic about leaving New England, but knows it may come to that: ″I was going to call a friend of mine in Chicago and have him send me the want ads,″ he said.

New England’s unemployment rate climbed to 5.7 percent in 1990, the first time the region’s jobless rate exceeded the national level since 1977. In fact, unemployment isn’t much lower elsewhere. The Midwest and South each posted unemployment rates of 5.6 percent, while the West had a rate of 5.4 percent.

But some economists say the recession in New England is likely to be deeper and last longer than in other regions, because it was brought on by structural problems like high production costs, and not just the normal cyclical dip in consumer demand.

Career counselors see evidence of an ailing economy in the sharp drop in companies sending recruiters to campus in search of prospective employees.

The University of Rhode Island saw a 30 percent drop in the number of companies that visited the campus in the fall. Bentley, which is graduating 800 students with business degrees, reported a 15 percent decline.

The University of Massachusetts at Amherst expects 28 percent fewer companies to recruit on campus this spring. At the University of Connecticut in Storrs, 30 to 40 companies already have canceled spring recruitment visits.

″They just aren’t hiring as many people,″ said Douglas Daring, UConn’s director of career services.

Students preparing for careers in banking, insurance and real estate face the bleakest prospects, counselors say. Incipient accountants or nurses get more encouragement because those professions seem to be holding their own.

Some students don’t seem fazed by the prospect of leaving New England.

″I go into classrooms and ask them how many are going to look for a job in Massachusetts and there aren’t many hands that go up,″ said Doreen Hodgkin, director of senior and alumni placement at Northeastern University in Boston.

″I hear they’re moving to the Research Triangle in North Carolina for computers, to Florida for construction and to California for various things.″

Other students betray their anxiety with dog-eat-dog tactics they aren’t supposed to encounter until they actually land jobs in the corporate world.

At UConn, officials were stunned when twice during the last few weeks a student showed up for his on-campus corporate interview only to find that his appointment had been canceled by a classmate.

″I am assuming in both cases that he was simply trying to cancel out the competition,″ Daring said.

Another student got so frustrated with his unsuccessful job search that he tore up his resume and threw it at his adviser. Another panicked student screamed obscenities at his counselor.

Some New England college counselors are not eager to turn their students into job-seeking nomads.

″It doesn’t work,″ said John McGrath, director of career placement services at Providence College. ″Where are they going to go? California? The recession is just starting there.″

And Victor R. Lindquist, director of placement at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., warned that moving to escape a bad economy could backfire.

″There isn’t any rose garden out here, where (jobs) are just bursting into bloom waiting for the kids. It’s just not a fact,″ he said.

″If you start taking all these kids coming out of Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York and Maine and have them descend on Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Illinois, I don’t think the job market could absorb that.″

End Adv Tuesday, March 19

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