The good news is that well-educated, multi-skilled, versatile and flexible are words that sum up the characteristics of the college graduates who will get the best jobs this year.
The bad news is that right after those words, "darn lucky" might be the most fitting phrase.
This year offers the worst job market for college graduates in 20 years, according to "Recruiting Trends 1990-'91," the 20th annual national survey conducted by the Career Development and Placement Services at Michigan State University.
"Last year there was a 13.3 percent decrease in the job market. That, plus this year's 9.8 percent decrease adds up to the most serious job situation we've had since we started the study," says Patrick Scheetz, author of the study and assistant director of Career Development and Placement Services at Michigan State.
Hiring freezes and thousands of layoffs have caused increased competition for jobs. Put these factors together with the general business decline and you've got a highly competitive market, Mr. Scheetz says.
But before you fall into a depression-induced stupor, take heart: "Most of the decrease was caused by uncertainty. The economy, the war. And a lot has changed. We've gone to war, we've won the air war, won the ground war, now people will go back to buying things and dealing with the economy," he says.
Besides, this gloomy analysis doesn't mean there are no jobs, say local career counselors, just not as many.
And with or without a recession, the hot jobs will be "from now until 2000, in health and technology: Anything in health services, computer services will be in demand," says Neal Rosenthal, chief of the Occupational Outlook Division at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Job categories that made the Top Five chart for fastest growing fields according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics are: paralegals, medical assistants, home health aides, radiologic technologists and technicians, and data processing equipment repairers.
In these economically strained times, points out Mr. Rosenthal, "If you want to make things more efficient, you hire technologists."
The paralegal job market "continues to amaze me," says Debra Conaway, co-director of career focus at Maryland New Directions, Inc., a Baltimore career counseling center.
"In a way, it's a sad reflection on our society that we need this many paralegals out there with everyone suing and going to court. But the good thing is that you don't have to necessarily get a four-year degree."
And as baby boomers age, and breakthroughs in medical technology continue to be made, experts predict that, as far as jobs go, the health field is a booming market -- and will only get better.
"It's good now and frankly, the real health crunch will come in the year 2020. Right now it's the Depression babies who are aging -- the big crunch will be when the baby boomers begin to retire," says Edward Sabin, assistant professor in the department of sociology and anthropology at Towson State University.
He points to figures from the U.S. Census Bureau to bolster his argument: In 1989, there were 31 million people over 65 years old. In 2000, there will be an estimated 34.9 million.
However, the big jump comes between 2010 and 2020 when the estimated number of Americans over 65 years of age will go from 39.4 million to 52.1 million, he says.
"I try to tell my students that the doors are wide open," says Mignon Lieberman, instructor for internships for the department of sociology and anthropology at Towson State University. "Agencies call me all the time looking for students. There's a big sector in programming open that involves maybe a dozen types of areas: day care centers, nursing centers, senior centers."
Kathy Weidle, 26, graduated from Towson State University with a degree in gerontology in December 1989. Now, as activities director at Stella Maris, a nursing home run by Cardinal Shehan Center, she plans daily programs for the elderly from current events discussions to bingo games.
Although starting salaries for those holding gerontology degrees are not especially high -- usually in the mid-teens, Ms. Weidle says, "I knew that. I had gone to the library before I chose my major. I chose it because I like it and there is a lot of opportunity." Eventually, she plans to earn a master's degree -- perhaps in administration.
There are additional reasons for the continued availability of jobs in the health and what experts call allied health services, says Ms. Conaway. "One reason is that people don't tend to go into this field. The other is that we're both living longer and we're more active."
"There are all these sports medicine clinics, and when people say 'occupational therapy' they may mean all these back clinics: teaching people to live and work with back pain. And we're becoming high-tech -- there has to be someone to run the X-rays, the sonograms. You see whole businesses that aren't hospitals that do nothing but run these tests. These people are hiring," she says.