Job Market For 2004 College Grads Shows Improvement

The college Class of 2004 may reap the benefits of an improving job market, but results of a new survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) show it's unlikely the better outlook will translate into big starting salary offers.

In an earlier NACE survey, employers projected hiring 12.7 percent more new college graduates in 2003-04 than they hired in 2002-03, the first projected increase since 2000-2001.

Despite the better outlook, employers responding to NACE's most recent Job Outlook 2004 survey appear reluctant to "up the ante" by offering higher starting salaries. In fact, more than half (51 percent) of employers responding to the survey said they wouldn't increase starting salaries at all. And, among the 49 percent who do plan to raise salaries, the average projected increase is a modest 3.4 percent.

(The NACE survey is available for download to NACE members only. For information, see the Web site at

"That's a clear indication that employers expect competition for new college graduates to be manageable," says Marilyn Mackes, NACE executive director. "In fact, what we are seeing are small but positive signs pointing to a better—not great—job market for the college Class of 2004."

Additional highlights from the survey include:

  • Fifty-seven percent of employers characterize the overall job market for new college graduates as "fair," but 34 percent of employers characterize it as "good," up from just 29 percent who said it was "good" last year. Moreover, when asked about the job market for new college graduates within their specific industry, more than half (53.3 percent) characterize it as good, very, good, or excellent.

  • Nearly half of responding employers (46.5 percent) have firm plans in place to recruit on campus in Spring 2004.
    Respondents indicated the most interest in business and engineering graduates at the bachelor's and master's degree levels.

  • Employers focus much of their recruiting and hiring efforts on candidates in their own internship programs. On average, respondents say they convert 42.5 percent of their interns into full-time, regular hires.

  • Candidates who can demonstrate their ability have an edge: According to respondents, 59 percent of their new hires in 2003 had internship experience, gained through their organization or another organization.

About the Job Outlook 2004 survey: NACE's Job Outlook survey forecasts the hiring intentions of employers and examines other issues related to the employment of new college graduates.

For the 2003-04 academic year, the survey is being conducted in four parts. To date, two parts of the survey have been conducted.

The first part, the Job Outlook Fall Preview, was conducted in August, and its results were released in September.

This press release focuses on the results of the second part of the survey, which was conducted from mid-August through September 30, 2003. Surveys were sent to 1,085 NACE employer members; 360, or 33.2 percent, responded. By type of employer, 46.9 percent are service-sector employers, 39.7 percent are manufacturers, and 11.9 percent are government/nonprofit employers. (An additional 1.4 percent could not be classified by sector.)

NACE will conduct parts three and four of the survey to update hiring projections for college job market in December (Job Outlook Winter Update) and April (Job Outlook Spring Update).

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