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Donna Smith spent her undergraduate years at Wharton learning about advertising, consumer research and how to match products with consumer demand. Now, four years after graduation, Smith checks ID cards and gives out lock-out keys as a front desk clerk at High Rise East. "I didn't start thinking about life after college until senior year," Smith said recently. "I was really slow. I put my resume into the book in Career Planning and Placement, but I got no interviews." By the time Smith found the job at the HRE desk, she had been unemployed for eight months. "I was in really bad financial shape and needed the money," the 1986 graduate said. "I find myself in a bit of a bind." Smith's case is extreme -- most college graduates find jobs requiring the skills they perfected in school when they enter the workforce. But in the next decade, thousands of graduates will be forced to join Smith in the ranks of the under-employed -- workers with more education than their jobs require -- if forecasts of a bleak economy and an oversupply of college graduates are accurate. In the 1980s, fortune smiled on college graduates. Starting salaries were up and seniors were lured by tales of easy money to be made on Wall Street, in Washington and in Hollywood. Now the boom years are over and the economic forecast is hazy. New workers, including fresh graduates, will be hardest hit if the economy takes a downturn and employers tighten belts. Already, college graduates are feeling the pinch. Employers hired 13.3 percent fewer workers in 1989 than in the previous year, according to Patrick Scheetz, author of a Michigan State University study titled Recruiting Trends 1989-90. "1990 was the most competitve market since 1982-83 when we had a recession," Scheetz said last week. And at least one economist is predicting that the oversupply of college graduates will grow. Jon Sargent, an economist with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, predicted that in the next decade, approximately 1.5 million college graduates -- eight percent of the total number of graduates entering the labor force -- will have to take jobs that only require a high school education. The picture could become even bleaker if the economy worsens. "There are a lot of if's that are looming very large," said Victor Lindquist, dean of placement at Northwestern University. "What impact will the Gulf Crisis have on the economy? If the budget isn't brought into line, and if the perception of an uncertain economy is out there, and if the Fed doesn't drop interest rates, and if there is an increase in the rate of inflation, what impact is this going to have on hiring?" "If you're going into the tank, you're not going to hire new people," Lindquist added. John Rae, director of capital markets recruiting for Merrill Lynch in New York, agreed. "If anything this industry, Wall Street, is certainly on the downside, if not in a recession," Rae said. "I think the next couple of years are going to be difficult. I don't see firms expanding their recruiting efforts, if anything they'll be flat or down. I think that's true of the Northeast in general." But Career Planning and Placement Service Director Patricia Rose said the gloomy predictions will not hold true for University graduates. "Even if in the short-term employers decide to hire fewer students, I'm still bullish on the 90s," Rose said. "In all my conversations with employers, I'm being told the same thing, 'We need more students like yours.' " The job outlook for new graduates differs according to specialty. The demand for graduates with technical degrees will continue to be high, but liberal arts graduates may find themselves in an increasingly competitive job market. The Michigan State study, which traced the hiring needs of 479 employers of new college graduates, found that this year, three to five liberal arts graduates will compete for every new job requiring a degree. To beat the competition and land a job, liberal arts graduates will have to put more effort into their job searches and cast their nets wider than graduates in technical fields, career plannning experts said. "Liberal arts grads have to ask themselves, 'What do I want to do? What skills do I have?' " said CPPS Director Rose. On the other hand, new graduates with degrees in fields like nursing, engineering, computer science, mathematics and accounting, should have no trouble finding jobs in their fields. There are one or two new jobs per graduate in these fields, Scheetz said. Starting salary trends also show a split between graduates with technical degrees and liberal arts majors. Starting salaries in the health care professions are skyrocketing, according to the July 1990 Salary Survey conducted by the College Placement Council. Between September 1989 and July 1990, average starting salary offers to graduates entering the health fields have risen 10.3 percent to $26,206. Meanwhile, graduates in all engineering fields are also benefitting. For example, average starting salary offers to chemical engineers rose 6.5 percent to $35,084. But starting salaries for most liberal arts graduates have remained steady or increased only slightly over the last year, according to this year's Salary Survey. The average starting salary for foreign language graduates showed the biggest gain, rising 9.6 percent to $23,157. History majors suffered the biggest drop in their average starting salaries with a 3.4 percent decrease from $23,384 to $22,558.

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