2006.07.03: July 3, 2006: Headlines: Public Service: Student Loans: Recruitment: Career Journal: The pressure on young adults to earn a lot of money right out of college has seldom been greater

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Peace Corps Library: Recruitment: Peace Corps: Recruitment : Peace Corps Recruitment: Newest Stories: 2006.07.03: July 3, 2006: Headlines: Public Service: Student Loans: Recruitment: Career Journal: The pressure on young adults to earn a lot of money right out of college has seldom been greater

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The pressure on young adults to earn a lot of money right out of college has seldom been greater

The pressure on young adults to earn a lot of money right out of college has seldom been greater

The strain can erupt in family conflict. After Veronika Hayes graduated this spring from the University of Illinois with $25,000 in debt, her family expected her to head for law school. "You can make so much money. You can be rich," Ms. Hayes, 21, says her aunt told her. But she surprised the family by signing on with Teach for America instead. "I struggled" to explain the choice to them, saying, "This is my life. This is my decision. These are my dreams," Ms. Hayes says.

The pressure on young adults to earn a lot of money right out of college has seldom been greater

Parents Lament as Grads

Favor Idealism Over Pay

By Sue Shellenbarger

From The Wall Street Journal Online

Rachel Kreinces' parents thought she was bound for law school last year when the 2005 University of Pennsylvania graduate revealed a surprise: She wanted to join Teach for America, spending two years in the classroom in a low-income New York school.

Her parents "said flat-out, 'No!'" Ms. Kreinces recalls. "They said, 'Get a job and work.'" Her father, Gerald Kreinces, Commack, N.Y., says he saw the program as "a luxury," requiring financial support for Rachel to live in New York City on a starting teacher's pay. He also feared she would abandon her law-school plans.

Now, after Rachel's first year teaching sixth-graders with emotional and learning disabilities, her father is proud and "he loves to tell family and friends" stories from her classroom, says Rachel, now 22. Dr. Kreinces, a dentist, says "it's been a great thing for her ... a real growth experience." In addition to helping her pay the rent, he has purchased a fan and a newspaper subscription for her classroom.

The pressure on young adults to earn a lot of money right out of college has seldom been greater. Beyond soaring rent and fuel costs, college seniors are graduating with record debt loads. Yet idealism springs eternal in the hearts of youth -- more strongly than ever, by some measures. The number of people ages 16 through 24 who volunteer 100 or more hours a year has risen nearly 18% since 2002, says a Census data analysis by the Points of Light Foundation, Washington.

"For a lot of my friends from college and high school, the buzzword is finding your passion," says Sean Smith, 24, a 2004 University of Notre Dame graduate and Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand.

The result: tension for grads and their families, as young adults strive to do public service while still paying the piper.

The strain can erupt in family conflict. After Veronika Hayes graduated this spring from the University of Illinois with $25,000 in debt, her family expected her to head for law school. "You can make so much money. You can be rich," Ms. Hayes, 21, says her aunt told her. But she surprised the family by signing on with Teach for America instead. "I struggled" to explain the choice to them, saying, "This is my life. This is my decision. These are my dreams," Ms. Hayes says.

Her mother, Cheryl Hayes of Chicago, who helps her daughter with her bills now and then, says she has faith in Veronika, though she fears her daughter will "get sidetracked" from law school. As a hospital lab assistant working nights, Cheryl says, she told Veronika, "You don't want to end up like me."

Although no one tracks parent-child tension over career choices, Darrell Anthony Luzzo, an executive of the career-education organization Junior Achievement and president-elect of the National Career Development Association, believes it's rising. Today's young adults, who came of age post-Sept. 11, tend to profess greater altruism than the previous generation, who focused more on individual achievement and attainment, he believes.

Also, dozens of states have enacted laws in the past decade allowing or encouraging "service learning." Several grads I interviewed said doing public service in school shaped their decision-making, and parents echoed that belief.

Public-service work helps many young adults find themselves. After graduating from college, Angelica Cox deferred her dream of joining the Peace Corps to start repaying $28,000 in student loans. Feeling directionless, she worked a series of part-time jobs, "barely getting by," she says. After two years, she signed on with the Peace Corps in Costa Rica, deferring the loans. There, helping coffee growers double their income by marketing beans directly to consumers, she found her passion: a career in international development.

The Peace Corps allows grads to defer student-loan payments and may forgive 15% of a student's federal Perkins loans for each year of service. AmeriCorps, a federal community-service initiative, allows loan deferment and a $4,725 education award; Teach for America, an AmeriCorps program, also pays a beginning teacher's salary.

But once the deferrals end, 23% of public-college grads and 38% of private-college grads have too much debt to manage on a starting teacher's pay, says an April study by the State Public Interest Research Groups, a nonprofit collaboration. And 37% of public-college grads and 55% of private-college grads owe too much to manage on a social worker's pay.

For parents who worry about grads' long-term financial outlook, Dr. Luzzo advises "striking a good balance between providing information on one hand, and supporting a child in their career aspirations on the other." If debt and living costs loom large, neither ignore nor overemphasize them. Just give your child the facts.

Some parents are coining new approaches. In raising their daughter Katie, Carolann Morykwas and her husband steered her "toward her true interests," Ms. Morykwas says. At 19, Katie "took us up on that" and majored in family and community service at Michigan State University, a path to social work or early-childhood services.

But Carolann, a Detroit-area bank executive, worries that while she and her husband got along fine for a while after college on low-paying jobs, living costs today make that path more perilous. Katie, too, says she worries about "how I'll survive financially." For now, she and her parents have reached a quiet understanding: She can't live at home after graduating, but they'll subsidize her living on her own. "We'll no doubt keep negotiating this," Carolann says.

Email your comments to sue.shellenbarger@wsj.com.

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