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Economy fears mix with hope for Class of ’12



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And then? There are many possibilities, but Shani knows not to predict where he’ll be in five years.

"I can tell you where I won’t be — at a desk job following the same routine every day," he says. "The path forward is far from certain. But I take things in stride."

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A DEGREE AND DEBT

Now that Chad Larsen-Stauber has a teaching degree, the inevitable question races through his mind: What will come first — a job or the bill for the first installment on his hefty loans?

The 26-year-old who just received his master’s degree in education knows that in three months, he’ll have to start paying off debt of about $100,000.

"This is going to be looming over my head the next 20 years," Larsen-Stauber says. "You’ve borrowed all of this money and it just comes due all of a sudden. When you’re already going into a low-wage job and you know that a third of your salary is immediately going to be eaten up ... that’s really frightening."

But not unexpected.

Larsen-Stauber is working with loan companies on payment plans; about 75 percent of his debts are from grad school. It seems overwhelming, but he says, "there never has been a regret in my mind. I knew when I started this program, I was 100 percent sure. ... If there was one job that I ever wanted, it was to be a teacher."

Larsen-Stauber realized that three years ago when he received a bachelor’s degree in communication. On graduation day, his parents posed a question: "‘If you had to work the rest of your life and you never had to worry about money, what would you do?’"


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The answer was easy. He wanted to work with kids, having done so at a YMCA after-school program and as a camp counselor. Teaching, he thought, would come later, so he applied for entry-level jobs in marketing and advertising.

It was 2009 and no one was hiring. Even family and personal connections didn’t help.

Potential employers, he recalls, were blunt. "They’d say, ‘We have the ability to be selective. The market is flooded with people with tons of experience and several degrees. We can’t just hire people right out of college.’ It was discouraging."

Larsen-Stauber moved back in with his parents in Chicago’s western suburbs, became a teacher’s assistant for a year, working with autistic and Down Syndrome students in a middle school. Then he enrolled at the University of Illinois-Chicago for a graduate degree.

As a teacher, Larsen-Stauber expects his salary will put a crimp in his lifestyle. (His father and grandfather are lawyers involved in real estate.) It’ll affect everything, from where he lives to his dreams of global travel. "The possibilities that seemed limitless at one point are very downsized," he says. "In the end, it’s a small price to pay for what you want to do."

He’s now finishing his student teaching, working with kids with learning and behavioral disabilities. By fall, he hopes to be a Chicago public school teacher. And he’s already thinking far ahead to pensions and retirement. "It used to be just an afterthought," he says. "Now you have to be wise and plan for yourself."

More immediately, his top priority is finding work. "A lot of people are saying, ‘Take whatever job you can get. You can do anything for a year.’ ...I’m going into this with an open mind. What I love to do is teach, and I will teach anywhere at this point."

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THE BIG LEAP

Meagan Cooper keeps an eye on Georgia’s unemployment rate, knows job competition is fierce and understands it won’t be easy for a high school graduate to navigate her way to success.

But the 18-year-old high school senior is convinced that work is a better fit for her than college, at least for now, so she’s begun applying for jobs in various places, including an art store, a construction company and a business that sells kitchen appliances.

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