Count on change, Class of 2010

As the Class of 2010 trades familiar high school halls for broader horizons, they face new challenges in a changing world.

Reporting on graduation, I can’t help but reflect on how the world has changed in the 15 years since I donned cap and mortarboard. For one thing, technology is different. Back then, phones had cords. If you needed to drive someplace new, you used a paper map — or wrote down directions. The Internet? What was that? When I did encounter it that summer of 1995, let’s just say that it was a whole lot slower and clunkier than it is today. That was five years before the dot com bust, six years before 9-11. It was a very different world.

Today’s graduates can rely on all the new tools and tech we’ve come up with in the intervening years. But they are also entering into a much more fluid and uncertain economic world.

Tuition costs at Washington colleges have risen steadily over the last 10 years. Increasingly, high school students are turning to community colleges and Running Start programs to save on the steep cost of college.

State legislators, including State Rep. Glenn Anderson, have challenged higher education in Washington to deliver more degrees for in-demand fields over the past few years. Anderson is alarmed by the fact that Washington exports many of its top high school graduates to out-of-state universities.

The repercussions of the global recession are still with us, and there is no telling what the economic situation will be like when today’s graduates exit college in four or six years.

One thing we do know is that the nation’s population is changing. As today’s grads are entering the workforce, another, bigger generation is leaving it.

About 76 million people were born in the Baby Boomer decades, while only about 46 million people were born during ‘Generation X.’ This could means that companies will become more competitive about hiring in a shrinking workforce.

Grads might consider mining the boomer retirement for career possibilities. After all, millions of aging retirees will need services, from the medical industry to tourism.

While traditional universities may not be the best route for all graduates, census numbers show that, on average, education is a good investment.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, someone with a professional degree earns more than three times the annual income of someone who holds only a high school diploma. Bachelor’s degree-holders earn about 60 percent more than someone with just a diploma.

That said, the degree that grads leave with may not define them. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average U.S. worker changes careers three to five times during their lifetime. I can’t tell you how many people I know with English and communications degrees who now work with computer language instead of prose.

Change is probably the one thing that young people can count on in the years to come. I encourage the Class of 2010 to set a focus for their future, but also to explore career paths before they lock themselves into them.

Let’s all do our part to encourage and share experiences with all of these young people as they begin their adult lives.

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