Money makes life easier. That’s why recent graduates gravitate toward careers known for high salaries. It’s also why many students are afraid to pursue humanitarian interests when selecting a career path.
There’s a notion that people who go into social work or civic service are charitable paupers, dedicated to feeding the poor but making barely enough to feed themselves.
But social work isn’t the debt sentence people make it out to be, said Jennifer Niggemeier, director of graduate career services at the Ford School of Public Policy.
Niggemeier said she works to dissuade students about that myth.
“People think jobs in the non-profit (sector) or in government don’t pay a living wage,” Niggemeier said, “That’s absolutely not true.”
A list of post-graduate plans for the Ford School’s class of 2006 shows students heading into a wide range of positions. Some students worked for the state government, while another planned to work with the Fair Trade Commission of Japan.
There are three key ways that graduates can work in the public policy field, Niggemeier said. Working for state, local or federal governments is one way, but others are pursuing work with research groups like The Urban Institute or in the growing field of corporate philanthropy.
Over the past few years, a new interest has developed in corporate philanthropy, Niggemeier said. Many large corporations have created philanthropic divisions, like Google’s Google.org, to put a portion of their revenue toward humanitarian causes.
Salaries are on the rise for people pursuing social work through jobs in corporate philanthropy. Average salaries for those in corporations’ non-profit arms rose 4.6 percent in 2006, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
Even if starting salaries are on the lower side, the prospect of getting a raise is good in certain civic service positions. According to a salary table for employees of the federal government, an entry-level employee with a bachelor’s degree can expect to earn $37,640 a year but to receive up to a $11,000 pay increase without even being promoted.
Some students come to the career center simply looking for career paths with the big paychecks, but Terri LaMarco, director of the University’s Career Center, said those students could be disappointed by what entry-level salaries really are.
High average salaries reported in studies are often only given to workers with several years’ experience, and students usually start out at lower salaries.
Niggemeier notes that non-profit jobs reward students in ways other than their pay stubs.
“Is it better to take a $35,000 job at a non-profit, or a $50,000 job where you’re working 10 to 12 hours per day?” Niggemeier said.
Public policy jobs can pay similar starting salaries and are more rewarding personally. Working for a corporation means working to increase profits and revenue, Niggemeier said, while non-profits serve to make a change in the world.
“Whether that mission is international rescue or education or water safety, that’s the focus,” she said.