Who’s Occupying Colleges? Wall Street
While activists nationwide have begun occupying college campuses, there’s another group that’s been setting up camp at universities a lot longer—Wall Street.
Surveys of graduating seniors at elite schools—including Harvard University, Stanford University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—show that between 15 and 25 percent of the class of 2010 pursued careers in financial services and consulting. And a recent spate of articles in student papers argues that aggressive campus recruiting is one of the reasons why.
Each fall, recruiters from top banks and consulting firms descend upon elite college campuses in search of a fresh batch of entry-level analysts. And as Yale senior Marina Keegan writes, “They’re unbelievably, remarkably, terrifyingly good at it.”
Sure, jobs at banks like Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan are considered by some to be prestigious and high-paying, and some students worried about paying off loans feel they need to take a lucrative job for a few years to achieve financial security.
But many other students say the solution offered by recruiters –one that avoids the uncertainty and anxiety of job-hunting—is also an important factor. The application process is straightforward and easy-to-follow, offering a set of simple steps not unlike that of applying to college itself. For seniors facing the “real world,” with all its bewildering variety of career opportunities and winding pathways, a tidy process early in the school year simply makes life easier.
This effect is exacerbated when spots at campus career fairs are often up for sale to the highest bidder; financial companies have the experience and resources to dominate the graduate recruitment process.
You might argue that such students are fortunate to have high-paying job offers in the midst of an economic downturn that has left many of their peers not without options. Or, you might note that the problems with Wall Street are systemic and much larger than the individual decisions of a bunch of college seniors.
Fair points, but there’s another—and troubling—point to be made: The aggressive recruiting tactics practiced on American college campuses are diverting talented students from pursuing careers in science, public service, and entrepreneurship, according to a recent study by the Kauffman Foundation. We should be concerned that a full one-fifth of any school’s graduating class is moving into an industry that the head of the United Kingdom’s Financial Services Authority famously described as “socially useless” and is plagued with problems, to which protesters at Occupy encampments nationwide have brought necessary attention
Thankfully, some students are pushing back.
Inspired by the Occupy movements, students at schools where big banks tend to recruit heavily are demanding that career centers be more proactive in helping students start careers in public service fields and promote entrepreneurship. At Stanford University, students recently formed an organization called Stop the Brain Drain, and students at Brown University and Harvard University have begun organizing with local Occupy movements to protest income inequality, an issue made worse by Wall Street practices.
Instead of simply letting banks convince anxious college seniors that the right choice is a job in finance, college officials need to start thinking more seriously about helping their students find careers they often exhort them to pursue in commencement speeches full of lofty rhetoric about following their dreams and passions.
It won't be easy, but some students are already leading the way.
Alyssa Battistoni is a staff writer for Campus Progress. You can follow her on Twitter at @alybatt.