COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | GEORGE CHAMBERLIN

Prospects improve for new college graduates

From San Diego State University to California State University, San Marcos to Mesa College and points in between, students around San Diego County have been busy lately picking up their graduation diplomas and heading off to the next phase of their lives.

And, like generations before them, they are wondering what the future holds.

Well, there is good news for the new graduates. Depending on your degree, there may be a job waiting for you right now.

"College students who are graduating in business, technology and health-related majors will have an advantage in terms of the volume of opportunities available today,” said Matt Ferguson, CEO of CareerBuilder, an online employment service.

“However, other majors such as liberal arts and sciences are also attractive to employers as they look for individuals with strong communications and critical thinking skills," he said.

The company's recent survey finds the industries with the best career potential for new graduates are advertising, computer software, accounting and finance. However, the top occupation opportunities today are registered nurses, sales representatives and accountants.

Even more encouraging is another report showing the average starting wage for graduates with bachelor's degrees have increased in the past year by 5.3 percent. The National Association of Colleges and Employers finds the average starting salary for college graduates stands at $44,928, up from $42,666 in 2012.

"The sizable gains in several disciplines — particularly in health sciences and business — have helped to drive up the average starting salary for the class of 2013," said Marilyn Mackes, executive director of NACE.

While the highest starting salary for graduates are paid to people with business degrees — $54,234 — the largest year-over-year increase in pay goes to those in health sciences, where salaries rose by 9.4 percent to $49,713.

These numbers are especially impressive when considered over the long term. A study by Georgetown University finds a person with a bachelor's degree will earn an estimated $2.3 million over their career, compared with someone who hasn’t completed high school, who will earn $973,000.

Realizing the financial benefits of a college degree, a growing number of high school students are taking on more responsibility for funding their higher education.

The College Savings Foundation's annual survey finds 74 percent of high school sophomores, juniors and seniors are proactive about savings and 53 percent have already gotten a job to earn money for college.

In particular, students and their families are using tax-favored accounts to set aside money for college.

"This generation of students was born at the inception of 529 college savings plans. It's exciting to see their enthusiasm as well as their parent's enthusiasm for saving early and strategically," said Roger Michaud of the foundation.

A college degree is an investment, and the lower the debt involved with the investment, the better the long-term rate of return.

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