By Steve Vogel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 1, 2009
A survey of career counselors at nearly 200 colleges and universities conducted last month found that 90 percent of the students working with their offices are interested in federal jobs or internships.
Nearly three-quarters of the respondents said interest in federal job opportunities has increased since the election in November.
The survey by the Partnership for Public Service confirms what has been reported anecdotally in recent months: a surge of student interest in the federal government, driven by widespread unemployment in the private sector and by a call to public service by President Obama.
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan held a live webcast yesterday with career centers at 32 schools, seeking to drum up applicants for hundreds of vacancies at the federal agency.
"I do hope you'll send your best and brightest this way," he told the college officials.
Donovan appealed for talented college graduates to join HUD "at the front lines . . . to bring the kind of change" Obama has promised, including creating "a geography of opportunity for more Americans."
Donovan added: "We can't accomplish all these things without good people." Officials said HUD needs to hire more than 550 people in the next five months for a range of positions, 40 percent of them appropriate for recent college graduates.
The Partnership for Public Service survey, which includes responses from 258 officials at 195 colleges and universities, found that the dire job market is the biggest driver in students' increased interest in the federal government, with more than 89 percent of respondents citing fewer opportunities in the private and nonprofit sectors. Nearly 84 percent cited the security offered by federal jobs in comparison with other employers. About 70 percent cited Obama's call to public service.
More than 80 percent of respondents reported a moderate or significant increase in students' questions on how to find federal job or internships and how to apply for them. More than 60 percent reported increased attendance at information sessions about federal career opportunities.
"The research demonstrates there is a wonderful opportunity to attract new talent to government," said Max Stier, president and chief executive of the nonprofit organization, which works to bring talent to the federal government. The group sponsored yesterday's webcast.
The government needs to do more to streamline the hiring of college graduates, Stier added. "They're primed and ready, but they need to be asked," he said. "There has to be a process that doesn't scare them away. We don't know how much talent is being turned away because the process is too slow or too cumbersome."
Federal agencies also must improve how they manage employees, Stier said: "If you succeed in getting them through the door and they leave, you're not doing yourself any good and you may be doing some harm."
Responding to questions e-mailed from college counselors participating in yesterday's webcast, Donovan acknowledged that the federal bureaucracy often gets bogged down on process. But he pledged that under the Obama administration, HUD will focus on results.
Joan B. Burton, director of a program at the University of Maryland that introduces students to the federal government, said she was impressed by what she saw during the webcast. "The secretary articulated a new vision for HUD that was tremendously exciting, and I know it will motivate students who want to make a difference," she said.