This is shaping up to be a bad year for freshly minted college graduates. The 1.5 million students receiving bachelor's degrees in 2009 will be competing with more than 1.8 million degree holders who are currently unemployed as the economy continues to shed jobs. It's enough to make seniors think seriously about grad school—or moving back in with their parents.
Now comes more evidence, if any were needed, that the job market for college-educated talent is hurting: The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) reports that the average salary offer for 2009 graduates with bachelor's degrees is down 2.2% from the same time last year. In 2008 a typical senior was being promised $49,624, while this year's number currently stands at $48,515.
The salary cuts mark an abrupt reversal from six months ago, when NACE was reporting that salaries were up 7.6% year-over-year. Since then, the percentage of disciplines reporting a decline in starting salaries has tripled.
Some majors, however, are faring better than others, particularly "anything you need a credential to do," says Leslie Kohlberg, undergraduate career services director at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Engineering majors posted a 2.3% increase in their overall average, now $58,438, while the average salary offer for those earning accounting degrees rose 2%, to $48,377.
Wanted: administrators and managers
"The projections for the future are that there will be continuing demand for the accounting majors," says Richard White, undergraduate career services director at Rutgers University. Of hiring trends he's seen on his campus, he says, "the engineering and technical sides seem to be doing fairly well."
Among business graduates, the average offer rose 1%, to $46,973. But finance majors did considerably better: Their offers were up 2.3%, to $49,754, while business administration and management majors did best of all, with the average offer increasing 3.6%, to $45,778.
Bids for liberal arts majors, meanwhile, are flat, at $36,807, while well-paid professionals such as computer science majors are seeing salaries dip. The average offer to computer science grads fell 11%, from $65,379 to $58,837 this year.
But there may be some bright spots on the pay horizon, at least when it comes to internships. While internship hiring is down 21%, according to NACE's 2009 survey, internship pay is actually up 5%, in part because employers are hoping the economy will turn around in the next year and want to maintain a strong talent pipeline.
"Employers are saying 'we don't have a lot of jobs but these [internship] programs are still really important to us and we still need to remain competitive,'" says Camille Luckenbaugh, who conducted the NACE internship survey. "'We can bump up the [internship] salaries a bit and maybe do something with benefits.'"
Gerdes is a staff editor for BusinessWeek in New York.