Perhaps it should be expected of a gray city like New Haven that many of its buildings were constructed during a depression.
While people across the country were tightening their belts, slapping on their fedoras, and standing in daily bread lines, Yale was on a spending spree, tearing down most of downtown New Haven and replacing it with libraries and residential colleges. The university was virtually immune from the economic downturn. In one contemporary joke, which referenced the creepy inscription on the Grove Street Cemetery — “The Dead Shall Be Raised” — a Yale dean supposedly looked at the sign and remarked, “They certainly will be ‘raised’ whenever Yale needs the space for new buildings.”
As any senior who was planning to work at Lehman Brothers or Merrill Lynch next year knows, this time Yale may not be as insulated. And as investment czar David Swensen is learning, even Congress wants Yale to feel the country’s pain through its potential mandate on private universities to spend at least five percent of their endowment income annually, regardless of economic conditions.
But while Yale and its graduates may never earn as much money as during the glory years of, well, 2007, the consequence of a recession may ultimately benefit Yale by propelling the University toward fulfilling its institutional mission.
According to the Office of Institutional Research, which maintains data about the activity of alums, 24 percent of all graduated members of the Yale College class of 2006 had entered business or finance within a year of graduation. About the same number, 26 percent, had gone on to further education. At the same time, the data on the class of 2004 showed 26 percent in business or finance, and only 18 percent in school. Meanwhile, 10 percent of each class were employed in government and public service. And the classes showed only 1 and 2 percent, respectively, employed in social work.
As competition for the few remaining investment banking jobs this year becomes bloodthirsty, however, these numbers are likely to change. Bureau of Labor statistics over the past twenty years show a .76 correlation between the national unemployment rate and enrollment rates in science and engineering graduate programs; the more people who are unemployed, the more college graduates enroll in graduate school. If the opportunity cost of taking jobs outside banking decreases and fewer students are tempted by the ridiculously high salaries of Wall Street, graduates might be more willing to think about job considerations other than signing bonuses and first-year salaries.
And that might be bad news for seniors who want to find a public service job or go to law school or graduate school, for this year could be more competitive than ever. But it would be great news for Yale. As President Levin told the class of 2008 at last year’s baccalaureate address, the aim of Yale is not “merely to prepare you for successful careers and personal fulfillment, but to prepare you for lives of service.” He added, “I hope you will carry with you … a recognition that the burden of ensuring the well-being of future generations falls on you.”
The Yale graduate in the White House might have failed his alma mater by being personally responsible for the dearth of job opportunities for the class of 2009. But if the economic crisis results in even half of Yale’s future graduates picking their careers with President Levin’s sentiment in mind: Mission Accomplished!
Niko Bowie is a senior in Timothy Dwight College.