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Study: Job prospects shaky for recent architecture grads

FARGO -- Less than a month after earning their degrees, 60 percent or more of North Dakota State University's newest nursing graduates already have jobs.

And that's before they take the required licensing exam.

"It's a great outlook, and it's a great career," said Carla Gross, chairwoman of NDSU's nursing department. "The sky's the limit as to what you can do with that degree."

But recent landscape architecture graduate David Eisenbraun said the 20 students in his class can't look forward to that kind of abundant job market. So far, only two have found work that will count toward their licensing requirements.

"Myself and one other person got actual landscape architecture jobs since we graduated," he said.

Not all college degrees are equal when it comes to finding work, according to a recent report from researchers at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce who researched 2010 and 2011 U.S. census data to find which majors had the best job prospects.

Gross said the latest "Hard Times: College Majors, Unemployment and Earnings" report, released last week, was hardly a surprise.

Recent nursing graduates had the lowest unemployment rate of 4.8 percent. NDSU's nursing department has seen about 95 percent of its pre-licensure graduates land jobs in their field for the past few years, with the rest either going on for advanced education or choosing not to enter the workforce.

"All we're hearing is they need more nurses, and there's a critical shortage across the nation for nurses," she said.

Recent architecture graduates didn't fare as well in the study, with 12.8 percent unemployed -- the second-highest rate by major in this report. Further darkening the outlook, employed graduates weren't necessarily working in their field.

Recent graduates with information systems majors had the highest unemployment rate of 14.7 percent, but Limin Zhang said that finding doesn't fit with what's happening at NDSU.

The assistant professor said management information systems majors have the highest employment rate of all majors in the business college -- about 93 percent for those who graduated during the 2011-2012 academic year.

"For those students who graduated in May, almost all of those have jobs already," Zhang said. "For the juniors who plan to graduate in the next year or so, I think almost everybody went for summer internships in companies around the region."

A majority of programs at Minnesota State University Moorhead continue to boast high employment rates, even during the recession, said Sarah Miller, director of MSUM's Career Development Center.

She said 96.3 percent of graduates from the class of 2011 who entered the workforce found a job in their field.

MSUM surveys its recent graduates, asking if they've been able to find related employment within a year.

"The overall news is it's really good for graduates," Miller said. "I think students who want to get a job within 12 months after graduation do."

Cindy Urness, interim chairwoman of NDSU's architecture program, said unemployment in the field was "very high" in recent years. It's closely tied to the construction industry and follows that cycle of growth and downturn, especially during the nationwide recession.

The NDSU Career Center's 2012 annual employment report shows that just 42 percent of the 26 landscape architecture graduates had jobs and 48 percent of the 58 students who earned a master of architecture degree found work by the time the report was compiled. Many graduates didn't respond to the survey, which can lead to an apparent employment rate that's lower than real.

Urness said architecture students here have one big advantage: a stronger than average local economy that kept the impact of the national downturn to a minimum.

"Our graduates have fared better in seeking jobs, here in particular," she said. "We've had a lot of our Minnesota students actually decide to stay in North Dakota to start their careers."

Urness said the other good news is that graduates from recent years who couldn't find related work after college are now landing good jobs -- and prospects are looking up.

"The prediction about our professions in general is that we're actually perhaps going to start to see a shortage as early as 2014," she said.

Senior architecture student Catherine Becker said she shrugs off the doom and gloom of national reports like this. She said it could be one of the factors behind lower enrollments in architecture programs across the country, a trend believed to be partially responsible for the looming shortage of architects.

She said she's among the 21 students in her class to land summer internships this year; she's spending her summer at JLG Architects in Fargo.

Becker will graduate next May. She's optimistic, especially because the NDSU program's annual design expo has drawn more firms each spring that are looking for potential employees.

"The economy went down, and everything kind of went down with that," Becker said. "We're on the rebound of that, and I think that's just going to continue to grow our industry."

Eisenbraun said he knew all about landscape architecture's "slim" job market when he started at NDSU in 2008. Still, the 23-year-old Fargo native said he was determined to make it.

"It was kind of like an all-or-nothing ordeal for me," he said. "This is what I'm dedicated to, this is where my passion lies and regardless of the job market, I was going to work hard, pull strings and do what I could to make sure that I was able to find something that I was happy with."

While classmates obsessed over a senior thesis late last year, Eisenbraun began his job search. He said the early start paid off, and he's now one week into a new job as a landscape architect with the city of Virginia Beach, Va.

"This is still exactly what I was thinking and hoping for and envisioned," he said. "I'm still happy with it. I just wish it wasn't such a bear basically to try and find a job."