To get a better picture of what Minnesota’s college students are going through during this tough economy, MPR’s Tim Post and I will be tracking half a dozen of them through graduation and beyond.
Our group — all of whom hope to graduate later this year — will talk to us about their dreams and describe how they’re handling the stress that comes with juggling exams, part-time jobs and the crucial decisions that’ll determine life after graduation.
Here’s a quick look at who we’ll be following:
- JEB Saelens, a University of Minnesota political science major who’s torn between working in his dream country of Australia, joining the Peace Corps and applying to grad school in international development. Potential obstacles: an OK-but-not-great 2.49 GPA and $40,000 in student loan debt.
- Dan Culhane, a 36-year-old who’s now on his sixth college after changing career directions a few times. He’ll graduate with a bachelor’s in computer information systems from the for-profit DeVry University. He seems confident, focused and well positioned, having accumulated on-the-job Web experience and a few contacts as he worked through school. His debt: about $30,000.
- Johanna Fierke, a Carleton College psychology and European Studies major who’s shooting for a Fulbright fellowship (among other things) so she can teach English in Germany or Austria. But she’s also considering taking some time off to work before earning a Ph.D. in language psychology. Like Saelens, she’s unsure whether her $40,000 in debt might be an obstacle to international adventure.
- Ashley Probst, a global studies major at the University of Minnesota who’s burning out after earning a 3.3 GPA while working 20-30 hours a week for four years. She’s considering law school so she can become an immigration- or human-rights lawyer, but sees AmeriCorps, the Peace Corps and Teach for America as a way to stay in the game while taking a break from school. She faces $60,000 in debt — the highest amount in the group.
- Allan Johnson, a 52-year-old nursing student attending a hybrid online program at Minnesota West Community & Technical College in Worthington. With about $27,000 in student debt, he’s deciding whether to be a registered nurse and earn a comfortable living in Appleton or continue on with a four-year degree so he can broaden his opportunities.
- Nora Nolden, a University of Minnesota agricultural education major and the only student in the group with no debt. Her family supported her, but she has worked 10-15 hours a week since she started school and has taken several government extension internships. Now she’s hot on the trail of an agricultural policy position or a marketing-communications job at an agricultural firm. She’s been working her contacts, and is “somewhat confident” she’ll land a job after graduation.
It’s a fairly diverse bunch in terms of age, schooling, debt and career choice. I can’t wait to see what happens.