More College Grads Are Taking Nonprofit Jobs. But Is It Just a Fad?

Posted by Liz Dwyer

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It's no secret that thanks to the ongoing economic downturn, corporate recruiters aren't hitting the college job fairs like they used to. But, according to a piece in The New York Times, there's a silver lining: Record numbers of recent college graduates are turning to jobs they might not have otherwise considered—nonprofit and public sector work—and they're finding they actually enjoy it.

How significant is the trend? Private sector jobs have decreased by 7 percent, but the government has beefed up its staff rosters by 3 percent. And, when it comes to other nonprofit or public sector work,

Applications for AmeriCorps positions have nearly tripled to 258,829 in 2010 from 91,399 in 2008. The number of applicants for Teach for America climbed 32 percent last year, to a record 46,359. Organizations like Harvard’s Center for Public Interest Careers have been overwhelmed—and overjoyed—with the swelling demand from talented 20-somethings.

Los Angeles resident Alison Sadock told the Times that she thought she'd end up in merchandising, but when she graduated from college in 2009, those jobs were nonexistent. After temping and taking on part-time jobs, she ended up parlaying volunteer experience and a business degree into a position working with corporate donors at the nonprofit Starlight Children's Foundation. Now she feels like she's serving a purpose instead of just “helping some large corporation sell more widgets."

The trend does raise some questions, namely, will grads like Sadock still flock to nonprofit jobs even after the economy rebounds and more companies start hiring? And, when it comes to long term retention of seasoned public sector workers, will this new generation of nonprofit and government employees eventually jump to the higher-paying corporate world as they get older and have more financial responsibilities?

Max Stier, the president and chief executive of the Partnership for Public Service is optimistic that these grads will continue along the nonprofit path because this is demographic that's grown up doing community service. “The millennial generation is a generation that is just more interested in making a difference than making a dollar," he says.

What do you think? Is this generation of recent college grads going to stick with nonprofit and public sector jobs—and, given the ever-changing nature of work in the 21st century, is it even fair to expect that they should?

photo (cc) by Kit from Pittsburgh via Wikimedia Commons