School's out, surf's up, summer beckons. Time for college students to see if they can stay afloat in the worst economy their generation has known.
Young people are carrying a load heavier than they normally bear as they scatter from campuses, judging from an AP-mtvU poll that finds students anxious about their finances, job prospects after graduation and the pressures facing their folks back home.
Josh Donahue, 23, an Oregon State University economics graduate, is living on food stamps. First in his family with a university degree, he stays with relatives and scrapes even for a menial job instead of the bank gig he'd dreamed about.
"A degree in economics," he said, "doesn't really prepare you to understand the economy very well."
To be sure, tight budgets are a rite of passage at college. Ramen noodles build character.
But in a nation that has lost more than 5.7 million jobs since the recession began in December 2007, parent and student alike are swept up in the tempest. In the poll of students, nearly one in five reported that at least one parent lost a job in the last year.
Parents usually worry about their kids' finances. Now the kids are worrying about their parents'.
At George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., systems engineering junior Adrian Solomon, 21, of Virginia Beach, Va., said his mother, who is single and raising his 16-year-old sister as well as a foster child, is "trying to support me sometimes, when I need it." At other times she's asked him for money. "I would do what I can to help her out."
Jake Lear, 21, of Warrenton, Va., a digital arts major at George Mason, worked three jobs at a time through the semester and is doing one of them full-time this summer — a resident adviser helping to look after freshmen in dorms — because he gets free housing. His parents work for a federal contractor that shrank its work force and eliminated 401(k) matching contributions. The school is in suburban northern Virginia outside Washington.
"I'm pretty much independent as far as school goes," Lear said. "Where they would normally help me out with cash here and there they don't so much any more, just because money's so tight."
The sleep-deprived but irrepressible Buchi Akpati, 18, of Woodbridge, Va., also juggled three jobs at once through the semester — one online, another at the gym and another as a beauty consultant. Her days have unfolded like this, once she gets out of bed between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m.:
"I go to class, study in between class, go to work, study at work, go to my other job, Mary Kay, do some facials, sell some products, study in between, go back to my dorm, study and eat at the same time, work online at the same time, study afterwards from like 2 to 6 a.m., then sleep, and then wake up and do the same thing."
She is majoring in "biology, pre-medicine, with a splash of Spanish" and adding two summer classes to her workload. "I never get any sleep," she said brightly. "That's the thing."
The poll surveyed students at 40 U.S. colleges, exploring financial pressures, job possibilities, their state of mind and when stress becomes depression. Among the findings on the economy:
- 22 percent of students said they worry a lot about having enough money to get through a typical week at school, and more — fully one-third — said they worry a lot about the finances of their parents.
- Nearly one in five changed plans this year and decided to attend graduate or professional school after college because an undergraduate degree might not be enough to get them a job. Staying in school buys time for the economy to improve and defers repayment of student loans but adds living costs and debt.
- 11 percent of those whose parents lost a job veered away from grad school because they could not afford it. They were twice as likely to avoid grad school as those whose parents did not lose a job. Job loss in the family also made twice as many students consider dropping out — 27 percent. Overall, nearly one in five considered quitting school.
- 32 percent said financial worries have a lot of impact on the stress they're under, up from 27 percent last spring.
Nervousness is apparent on campuses, even in the midst of post-exam relief. So, however, is resilience.
Instead of being discouraged by the 29 applications for summer internships that got no response, Larry Robertson is pumped about the one that is landing him an interview.
"I HAVE to get a job," he said. Living at home in Washington, where he devotes Fridays and other times to looking after his grandmother, he's been commuting up to four hours a day to George Mason and scrimping at every turn as he prepares for law school. He'll graduate in December with a major in sociology and a minor in anthropology.
"I don't buy clothes," Robertson said. "I don't shop. I stay at home, I don't go out. I have a very strict academic life. I really try to prepare enough so that I'm not stressed out with money. That's the last thing you need to be stressed out by when you're in school."