In those 88 black and white keys, Aubrie Jacobson sees a lifetime of challenges.
“Piano is difficult because you’re constantly learning new things,” said Jacobson, one of roughly 400 students who will graduate from Viterbo University on Saturday.
“It’s bittersweet knowing that it’s over,” she said. “I learned a lot and made some really great connections here, but I still have more to learn.”
Jacobson, a native of Marquette, Michigan, practically grew up on a piano bench, learning from her family.
One of her earliest memories is playing “Chopsticks” with her grandma, and it wasn’t long before she set her sights on a career in music, either as a piano accompanist or college professor.
Coming out of high school, Jacobson was drawn to Viterbo by its small-town atmosphere and strong music program.
“I felt like I wanted to start at a small school and get that individualized attention,” she said. “There are a lot of great opportunities for the arts at Viterbo and in the La Crosse community.”
She considered majoring in piano and french horn, but ultimately focused her efforts on piano. It kept her plenty busy.
In addition to her classes, Jacobson has performed with a handful of groups at Viterbo and beyond: Viterbo’s 9th Street Singers and music theater department, Roncalli Newman Catholic Church, and various students at both Viterbo and UW-La Crosse.
“I have to practice alone a lot,” she said. “So I really appreciate getting to collaborate, rehearse and connect with other musicians.”
While graduation means the end of those opportunities, the end of those connections, it also represents a new beginning.
In the fall, Jacobson will be attending UW-Madison on a full-ride scholarship, pursuing a master’s degree in collaborative piano. She will also receive a $12,000 stipend to work as a project assistant with the UW-Madison opera.
As she moves to a bigger school in a bigger city, Jacobson feels the same way she often does at the front of a crowded auditorium, her fingers hovering over the keys.
“Of course you get nervous, but it’s important to think of nerves as excitement,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to share music with other people.”
WASHINGTON — A college degree has long been a ticket to the U.S. middle class.
It typically confers higher pay, stronger job security, greater home ownership and comparatively stable households. Those benefits have long been seen as worth the sacrifices often required, from deferred income to student debt.
Yet college graduates aren’t as likely as they once were to feel they belong to the middle class, according to a collaborative analysis of the 2018 General Social Survey by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and GSS staff. The survey found that 35% of graduates described themselves as working or lower class, up from just 20% who felt that way in 1983. By contrast, only 64% of college grads say they feel they belong to the middle or upper class.
The findings might seem surprising given that the nearly decade-long U.S. economic expansion is on the verge of becoming the longest on record and unemployment is an ultra-low 3.8%.
Yet the financial insecurities that afflict many college graduates point to the widening gap between the richest Americans and everyone else. Dan Black, an economist at the University of Chicago, suggested that the consequences of the trend could include delayed family formation, lower levels of consumer spending and, eventually, slower economic growth.
“Concerns like this will definitely have impacts for the economy,” Black said.
The survey shows that Americans — both college graduates and those without degrees — have broadly benefited as the country healed from the Great Recession, which ended in 2009. But across age groups, a college degree has become less of an assurance of upward mobility. College graduates ages 50 and over, as well as those under 35, are less likely than they were in 1993 to describe themselves as middle or upper class.
Not surprisingly, Americans without a college degree have long felt even less connected to the middle class. Last year, six in 10 of them described themselves as working or lower class, about the same as the proportion who said so in 1983. (The survey didn’t define middle class; respondents replied based on their own perceptions.)
All of which suggests that while college still offers a path upward, that route has been narrowed by student debt loads, an outpacing of home prices relative to wages and widening economic inequality.
The income disparities go well beyond the gap between the top 1% of earners and all other households. Disparities are widening even within many occupations, including financial advisers, lawyers and physicians. The result is that an ostensibly middle class job title may provide a pay level more associated with a lower middle class job.
The survey finds that Americans’ satisfaction with their personal finances has finally regained its pre-recession levels even though this hasn’t led to increased identification with the middle class. Both people who have graduated from college and those who haven’t are now as likely as they were before the recession to say their financial situations have improved in the past year.
But Americans are also more likely than they were before the recession to say they feel overworked. College graduates are likelier than those without degrees to say they work overtime (80% to 70%) and that they have more work to do than they can complete (40% to 30%).
Among college graduates who feel untethered from the middle class is Justin Provo of Chicago. At age 28, Provo says student debt has inhibited his path to the middle class. He borrowed a total of $58,000 to graduate in 2017 from Roosevelt University with a degree in economics and philosophy.
Now a portfolio manager for a mortgage servicing company, he says his income-based loan repayment plan isn’t enough to fully cover the interest on his loans. So his debt load keeps rising even though Provo is making his regular loan payments. Just last week, he received a real estate license in hopes of earning extra income to reduce his debts.
“I’m chipping at marble with a spoon,” Provo said. “I’m making some progress, but I don’t feel like I’m getting anywhere.”
All told, student debt totals roughly $1.5 trillion — a more than five-fold increase since 2004, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. To help manage the burden, many parents and older family members have borrowed to fund their children’s educations.
Fed researchers concluded that the increase in education debt between 2005 and 2014 has prevented home ownership for roughly 400,000 young people. At the same time, many surveys show that student debt has also delayed marriages and household formation. The problem has emerged as an issue for the 2020 presidential election, with multiple Democratic candidates — most prominently Sen. Elizabeth Warren — calling for some form of student debt forgiveness.
Economists have noted that rising college debt has in effect become an entry fee for the job market. Nearly 80% of the net 2 million job gains last year went to college graduates, even though just a third of adults hold a degree. But roughly 60% of college graduates in 2017 had student loans, with the average borrower leaving college with about $30,000 in debt, according to the College Board.
“Young people are facing unprecedented challenges that are preventing them from achieving what we all consider to be the American Dream,” said Soncia Coleman, a senior director at Young Invincibles, an advocacy group for millennials. “They need the education, but the cost to get it is astronomical.”
While college still offers a path upward, that route has been narrowed by student debt loads, an outpacing of home prices relative to wages and widening economic inequality.
ROCHESTER — Winona State University-Rochester student Hannah Ringler began her search for a nursing job two months before her graduation. The 22-year-old had a job locked up a week later.
“It all happened so fast,” Ringler said. “I applied on Monday, had an in-person interview on Friday, then got hired on Monday.”
On Thursday, Ringler was among 47 WSU-Rochester registered nursing students to participate in a pinning ceremony at Rochester Community and Technical College. The ceremony is a symbolic welcoming into the profession underscored by a robust job market.
Like Ringler, many new registered nurses are finding that employers can’t wait to hire them. Several said they had jobs lined up weeks, if not months, before Thursday’s ceremony. As many as one-third to one-half of Thursday’s graduates have confirmed start dates, officials said.
“We can barely keep up,” said Jeanine Gangeness, WSU-Rochester associate vice president for academic affairs. “I would say the thing we hear the most from employers is. ‘We really like yours. Do you have some more for us?’”
WSU-Rochester student Mikayla Eischen began her job search last January and landed a job a month later. She will be working at Ascension in Milwaukee.
Eischen said she has wanted to be a nurse ever since she was a freshman in high school. She was 14 when she underwent a procedure to fix a racing heart condition. What she recalls about that time were the Mayo Clinic nurses and their efforts to make her feel comfortable the day of the procedure.
“I just want to be able to give back to people the way those nurses treated me,” Eischen said. “That’s really what drove home my desire to be a nurse.”
Thursday’s ceremony is one of four WSU will host this spring. Nursing graduates often prefer the smaller, more intimate setting to a traditional graduation because it’s confined to the classmates they got to know through the program.
“We all know each other very well,” Eischen said. “We spent a lot of time together, so it’s nice to be able to have one ceremony with just the 40 some of us.”
Employment of registered nurses is projected to grow 15 percent from 2016 to 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau Labor of Statistics, much faster than the average for most occupations. The median annual salary for nurses is more than $71,000.
The demand for nurses is being driven by an aging Baby Boom population that is now entering the Medicare rolls at a rate of two to three million people each year. People are living longer and needing more medical care. More people are suffering from chronic conditions, such as obesity and diabetes. Turnover in the profession is also fueling the rampant need for nurses
Yet, experts note that the nursing shortage, while a national phenomenon, might not exist in every locality. Competition for jobs is likely to be more intense in metropolitan areas than in rural ones.
Ringler said she and a roommate tried to get jobs in the Twin Cities, but the process was “slower” than at Mayo. She wasn’t exactly sure why, but suspected that Twin Cities nursing students who did their clinicals at Twin Cities hospitals are given priority over others.
Having a network of contacts helps. Alexandria Van Gilder, a WSU-Rochester student who took part in the pinning ceremony, said she learned of a job opening through a professor, who connected her to a Mayo placement coordinator. She will begin working in the thoracic post-surgery unit at Mayo.
Gangeness said the demand for nurses has been going strong for the past five years, and she expects it to continue.
“We don’t anticipate that we’re going to see any drop in the need for nurses any time soon,” Gangeness said.