Graduating from recession?

The annual Harvard Crimson survey of seniors showed in 2011 that just under two-thirds of students planning to work after graduation had a job lined up -- up from 58% the year before, but still down from 73% in 2007, just as the economy started to dip.

And more Harvard graduates are entering nonprofits and public-service jobs

  • The percentage of Harvard Business School graduates working in government or the private sector more than doubled to 7% in 2009 from 3% in 2005 through 2008, according to the college’s [ In 2010, 24% of recent Business School graduates entered financial services, compared with 41% in 2008.


"I think public service jobs usually win during recessions and other times of uncertainty," says Frank Rosenkranz, a research scholar at Harvard at the law school

Some hold that many of the newly minted public service workers will eventually head to the corporate sector. "I personally don't believe there will be a tremendous shift from corporate towards public in the long run," says Elena Dzhurova, a master of laws candidate at Harvard Law School. "I think in the long run most graduates will opt for sectors that offer more opportunities and higher salaries."


If government employers aim to lure top talent to the public sector, they will need to cater to prestigious graduates' needs. Given the recent near-shutdown of the government over spending cuts, tough new strictures on public employee unions, and the specter of more budget fights, it is doubtful that jobs relying on government funding will be able to provide such benefits anytime soon


"I think typical Harvard graduates look at two things: money and prestige," says David Husband, a first-year law student. "While money will always be important, making science, education and public service more prestigious will also have the effect of shifting the interest of Harvard graduates.”


Other students shut out of the corporate world are starting companies of their own. "Lots of people say they want to start a company but very few do," says Julian Herbstein, a Harvard graduate and the chief executive of International Capital Group. "Why? Fear plus opportunity cost. Well if you got laid off, opp[ortunity] cost is low. And if the big firms have suddenly left key swaths open then there's more room to grow."


But David Back, director of entrepreneurship at the Association for Law and Business at Harvard Law School, argues that entrepreneurship has more to do with personality type than economic conditions. "I think that these are entrepreneurial risk-takers who would have made the start-up leap regardless of the economic climate," he says. "Although things might be different for people who are one or two years out of school, and particularly different for people who got laid off during the recession."


Even if the shift to public service and entrepreneurship is not permanent, attitude changes largely stemming from the recession will likely stick. Studies of earlier recessions have shown that tough times can make young people more conservative about money for the rest of their lives. Several Harvard students and graduates say their attitudes about money have changed. Many say they are more likely to think twice before making large purchases.

As a child, one well-off student said, her parents drove her every Sunday through the rundown parts of the city to give her some perspective on how fortunate she was. But the lesson never really hit home until her family lost all their money in the markets. “I really got the picture," says the student, who asked not to be named, "and when I went back to the bad part of town, I really understood."
Whether or not the recession has a permanent effect on Harvard graduates, it seems like most people can agree that the only certainty is uncertainty. "Coming from law school, especially Harvard, you don’t think about potential recessions," says Rosenkranz, the research scholar. "You think about fame, money or doing the right thing. A significant long-term change would need a significant change in these views and attitudes.”



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