IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

College grad job outlook, pay stronger this year

More than a million college seniors are preparing to enter the real world this spring — and their prospects are remarkably good.
Las Vegas Strip \"Business as Usual\"
Las Vegas was rated as the hottest job market. And not just because of the weather or the nightlife.David Mcnew / Getty Images
/ Source:

More than a million college seniors are preparing to enter the real world this spring — and their prospects are remarkably good.

The number of new college graduates hired by U.S. companies will be 17.4 percent larger this year than a year ago, says a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, a human-resources organization.

"The outlook this year is very good," says Andrea Koncz, NACE's employment information manager. "In 2002 and '03, we saw declines in hiring because of 9/11 and the economy. But in '04, hiring turned upward, and it's been growing ever since."

That's good news, but trends can still vary substantially at the local level, even if the national forecast is upbeat. The trick for any new grad is to pinpoint the hottest markets right now.

Topping that list is Las Vegas, according to a new Bizjournals study that identifies the 10 metropolitan areas where job opportunities are strongest for young adults.

"Las Vegas, of course, has a very special type of economy," says Sophia Koropeckyj, an economist with Moody's, an international research firm. "And it doesn't seem likely to be quitting anytime soon. Las Vegas just keeps on going."

Bizjournals analyzed 171 metros, looking for qualities that would appeal to workers in their 20s and early 30s. It gave the highest marks to places with strong growth rates, moderate costs of living, and substantial pools of young adults who have college degrees and jobs.

Las Vegas emerged as the leader among the nation's 66 big markets, those metros with at least 750,000 residents. It finished at or near the top in several of the study's 10 statistical categories:

  • The population of Las Vegas has been increasing at an annual rate of 4.2 percent since 2000. That's three and a half times the U.S. average of 1.2 percent.
  • The area also ranks first in employment growth, expanding its job base 5.6 percent annually since 2001. That pace generated 226,700 jobs during the past five years, including 45,900 in 2006 alone.
  • It offers the possibility of swift advancement. Nearly 15 percent of Las Vegas' householders under the age of 25 make at least $75,000 a year. The national average is 5 percent. (A householder, as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau, is a person in whose name a house or apartment is bought or rented.)

Western strength
There's a distinctly Western flavor to Bizjournals' list of the 10 most attractive metro areas for young adults.

Four other Western metros are among the 10 leaders: Phoenix (second), Salt Lake City (fifth), Seattle (eighth) and the Riverside-San Bernardino (10th) region in California.

"In particular, the interior West has done really well the past few years," says Hugo Sellert, research manager for Monster Worldwide Inc., the parent company of, an online employment service.

"A lot of companies moved to places like Las Vegas and Phoenix from the Northeast and Midwest, because costs there were cheaper," he says. "And there's also been a substantial relocation of people there from the coastal West. It may slow down a bit in the future, but those are still strong markets."

Rounding out Bizjournals' top 10 are Washington (third), Raleigh, N.C. (fourth), Minneapolis-St. Paul (sixth), Austin, Texas (seventh), and Orlando (ninth).

Two of those markets can thank the research boom for their high rankings.

"University towns like Raleigh and Austin are still seeing a lot of job growth," says Sellert. "Biotechnology, IT (information technology) — those sectors remain strong. And research firms in those fields typically set up close to universities."

Employers are on the lookout this year for graduates holding the following bachelor's degrees, according to the NACE survey. They are listed in order of anticipated demand:

  1. Accounting
  2. Business administration and management
  3. Computer science
  4. Electrical engineering
  5. Mechanical engineering
  6. Information sciences and systems
  7. Marketing and marketing management
  8. Computer engineering
  9. Civil engineering
  10. Economics and finance

The number of new college grads hired by the service sector is expected to increase by 19.8 percent this year, based on NACE's findings. Smaller growth is predicted for the manufacturing sector (up 9.5 percent) and the government/nonprofit sector (up 9.0 percent).

Pay levels are also likely to rise. NACE predicts that the average salary offer for a new college grad this year will be 4.6 percent higher than a year ago.

Above-average increases are expected for graduates with degrees in engineering, management-information systems and business administration. But students with liberal-arts degrees, such as psychology, political science, history and English, will see little change from last year.

Cool job markets
Midwestern and Northeastern industrial areas dominate the lower end of Bizjournals' standings.

Detroit, which ranks 66th overall, is the large metro with the bleakest outlook for workers in their 20s and 30s. The problems besetting domestic automakers, combined with the erosion of Detroit's manufacturing base, have caused the area to lose 105,100 jobs in the past five years.

Other metros that have relatively little to offer young adults are No. 65 Dayton, Ohio, No. 64 Cleveland and No. 63 Grand Rapids, Mich.

"Particularly in Ohio and Michigan, the restructuring in the motor-vehicle industry is hitting hard," says Koropeckyj of Moody's "And because of the troubles in their core industries, their demographics are not good."

Bizjournals generated a separate list of the medium-sized markets that have the most appeal for young workers. Those rankings cover 105 metros with 250,000 to 750,000 residents.

Atop those standings is Fayetteville-Springdale, Ark., which is home to the University of Arkansas and the headquarters of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the largest retailer in the world. The area's job base has expanded by 3.9 percent a year since 2001.

The runners-up in the medium-area standings are Reno, Nev.; Des Moines; Madison, Wis.; and Provo, Utah.

At the bottom of this list is Hickory, N.C., a metro of 350,000 people about 60 miles northwest of Charlotte. It has lost 11,000 jobs in the past half-decade.