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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Tech layoffs constrict job market for recent grads, but value of UW degree remains high, experts say

Networking, UW career services essential for navigating competitive hiring processes, according to UW experts, leaders
Caroline Crowley
A student graduates at the Spring 2022 commencement ceremony on May 14, 2022.

In January, Wisconsin reached historic highs for the number of people employed in non-farm and private jobs, with the state’s unemployment rate remaining low at 3.2% — 0.5% below the national unemployment rate. This follows a broad pattern of increasing employment gains in the U.S. following a surge in pandemic-related joblessness, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Despite these gains, over half of recent college graduates are still underemployed, according to a February 2024 report from Strada Education Foundation.

Graduates in degrees that utilize a substantial amount of quantitative reasoning experience the lowest unemployment rates out of college, less than 37%, compared to a 57% or higher unemployment rate for recent graduates with degrees in public safety and security, recreation and wellness studies or general business fields, according to the report.


Despite the relatively lower unemployment levels for recent graduates in quantitative fields, it has become more difficult for recent graduates to find jobs in the tech industry over the past two years, former president of the Wisconsin Association of Colleges and Employers Liz Julian said.

“There have been some layoffs that have unfortunately been very tech heavy, and so that put more people into the market,” Julian said. “I think there’s still plenty of roles. It’s just a little more competitive than it was two to three years ago because of saturation and an increased number of applicants.”

Conversely, nursing and healthcare-adjacent fields and education have high employment demands in the state, and students applying into those fields can expect a much less difficult job search, Julian said.

Regardless of what sector a student plans to enter into after graduation, attaining field-specific work experience while still in college has powerful effects on their matriculation into their workforce, according to a 2016 National Association of Colleges and Employers report. Students who indicated they would be graduating in the 2014-2015 school year who worked paid internships or co-ops for private, for-profit companies had a job offer rate of 72.2%. For students working unpaid internships or co-ops for private, for-profit companies the rate fell to 43.9% and dipped to just 36.5% for students who had no internship or co-op experience.

Without prior work experience, landing a career job is more difficult, forcing some recent graduates to take jobs that don’t utilize the skills acquired in their degree, and the longer they go without finding degree-specific employment, the less appealing they are to employers in that field, Julian said.

According to University of Wisconsin educational policy studies PhD student Kyoungjin Jang-Tucci, connections also play an important role in landing field-specific work experience.

“There is much evidence about how a student’s network positively influences their job, post-graduate outcomes — especially how soon they get a job and so on,” Jang-Tucci said. “So networking is very important.”

Jang-Tucci said since networking frequently starts with family, the better situated a family is economically and socially, the more likely they are to be able to leverage connections and procure internship and job opportunities, leaving students from low income households at a disadvantage.

But, the job placement resources available to all students on campus should not be overlooked, Julian said. Julian recommends going to job fairs, using campus career services and reaching out to guest speakers in class to build a network.

Currently, the median lifetime return from a bachelor’s degree at UW is $760,000 for Wisconsin residents relative to a high school diploma, according to a white paper report from the Center for Research on the Wisconsin Economy, and though an unresponsive job market can tempt questions about the value of a UW degree, in the long run, it is almost always worthwhile, Julian said.

“I do think it is still worth it,” Julian said. “And if you don’t have an end goal then maybe it isn’t, but those who do graduate absolutely earn more than those who don’t. So I think that’s a big part of it. People feel like ‘if I do this, then X will happen.’ And sometimes it’s not as linear as that.”

In a recent media roundtable with campus news organizations, UW Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin reaffirmed UW’s commitment to supporting students in their transition out of the classroom and into the workforce.

Mnookin emphasized investments in SuccessWorks — the College of Letters and Sciences’ center for career and professional development — and the presence of job-focused opportunities within all of UW’s schools.

The university hopes to improve career enhancing opportunities for students, but the proportion of gainfully employed students and recent graduates remains high, Mnookin said.

“I do think that the proportion of our students who are gainfully employed in areas connected to what they’re hoping to do — is it absolutely every student, no — we are a big, large place and there’s always going to be exceptions, but we are quite strong,” Mnookin said. “And it’s important that we continue to look at that and continue to invest in that.”

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