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Colby College President Pledges To Find A Job For Every Graduate

Robert F. Bukaty
AP File
In this photo made Friday, Jan. 23, 2015, Miller Library towers above the Colby College campus in Waterville, Maine.

Following months of record low unemployment, the country is now facing unprecedented jobless numbers. It's part of the economic fallout from COVID-19. It's been a rough year for college seniors who, until a couple of months ago, were on track to enter a swift job market.

Colby Collegein Waterville is taking the rather sizable task of finding each of its graduates a job. Maine Public's Jennifer Mitchell talked about this with Colby College President David Greene. 

Ed note: interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Mitchell: So tell us more about this effort to get Colby grads into work despite these times or, perhaps, because of these times.

Greene: Well, every morning there's another spike that we see in unemployment. Twenty-million jobs lost in April alone. And this is the toughest market that I've ever seen for graduating seniors going into. Not only have students suddenly gone from college, and they're now spread all over the world, and they're at home, but many of these businesses aren't even open, or they're functioning in a very remote fashion. The normal kind of interviewing process that happens at this time of year is not happening in many places. So that just makes it doubly hard for all these students out there.

So what can the college actually really do here? I mean, the job market is something that isn't really in our control, and it's attached to the economy and supply and demand and all that. And that's all kind of slowed down. So how much are you actually able to affect change here for this graduating class, which is about 500 students?

Well, we have 500 students, about 200 of them already have jobs or graduate school plans. So we've got about 300 students who are looking right now. And our goal is to be able to call on our community from Colby, which is our alumni community, our parents and friends. We've got about 30,000 people in that community, to see if they can really help to identify sets, a set of jobs or great opportunities for these 300 students. Even in a down market like we're seeing right now, there are places that are hiring. And all great firms, great companies look for talent. And that's something that we have in abundance. So I think we can provide an incredibly talented workforce for companies that are still looking for great employees.

So how is it all going? Has the school actually been able to place any students? Or is this still new and you're still looking?

We've had 270 come forward in the first two days. I'm shocked by it. Much higher than I would have imagined this outpouring of folks coming in saying, 'we have opportunities here,' 'I could take a graduate in this kind of position.' It's been phenomenal. It's just been a really interesting response to it, more than I expected, I thought we would be kind of slogging through for several months. Now, in the end, you know, there's not going to be a perfect match with every one of these opportunities. So we have 270 now, and we'll need more than 300 to have 300 matches, but I think we can get there.

What kind of jobs are these? Are they just basically anything at this point to get by, or are these positions that are actually going to allow the student to benefit from the degree that they've earned?

Oh, no, they could absolutely benefit from the degree that they've earned. It's been fascinating to see. So these are jobs in finance, jobs in the technology sector, in the health sector that we're seeing. We're seeing some now that are coming up in the arts for our students. So I've been surprised, actually, at the range of jobs and what they look like, but they're serious opportunities.

Why not do this all the time, then? Like why not make the guarantee? If it's, it sounds like it's going pretty well.

I hope it does. You know, normally by summertime, about 90-95% of our students are employed or heading to graduate school. And so in a good market, we're always doing well, but it's not always going to be a good market. So I think having the right kind of systems in place to be able to help these students, that will benefit all of them and benefit these employers as well. And I hope that we'll learn enough from this that we can be doing this every year.