college graduates

Clean energy may provide college graduates with jobs in 4 years

Watching my oldest son and his classmates get ready to head off to college has given me some insight into the next generation's dreams and desires.

Their views of the future haven't yet been clouded with the jaded, cynical perspectives of their parents.

Of course there was the exception of my son Calvin. When his goals were read during a presentation honoring the top graduates of his high school, he said he hopes machines don't take over the world.

Most of his classmates in the top tier scholastically and athletically painted a more idealistic and optimistic view of their futures. They wanted to be doctors, lawyers, CIA agents. And they wanted to change the world.

But what exactly will they face once they get out? The economic picture is not pretty, even for college graduates with top scores and vivid intentions of success.

Personally, I'd like to see the clean energy industry expand exponentially in the region and offer opportunity within its various sectors. That would jump start the rest of the economy.

It may happen. Clean energy costs will decline and jobs could break loose over the next couple of years, says the report "Putting America Back to Work with Clean Energy" by the progressive Washington, D.C.-based think tank Center for American Progress. The report says the "crossover point" at which development costs of fossil fuels and renewables meet "is coming quickly."

The current job situation is grim. The unemployment rate between April 2010 and March of this year for college graduates averaged 9.7 percent, according to a briefing paper, the Class of 2011, by the Economic Policy Institute.

The paper's authors, Heidi Sheirholz and Kathryn Anne Edwards, write that graduates face an "extremely difficult job market. In fact, it is likely that the class of 2011 will face the highest unemployment rate for young college graduates since the Great Recession began."

And Arianna Huffington points out in a recent column that college graduates also will be burdened by a debt load averaging $27,000. "Economically at least, this is an especially rough time to be graduating from college," she writes.

Maybe I'm drawing all the wrong conclusions. My son Calvin is heading to Seattle University to study film. He wants to be a director.

To me it means paying about $31,000 in board and tuition. I have about $45,000 saved. He's debt bound.

He interprets the concept differently, perhaps that college will be like a non-Kafkaesque metamorphosis. As a graduate of an elite Jesuit college, he'll possibly be able to navigate all the pitfalls of those who came before him and forge a successful, profitable career.

Maybe. But along the way, he'll learn how the economy can beat hopes into mush and how technological change can pummel entire professions. (At least that was my experience, and I let a little of the embittered ex-journalist diatribe through.)

Over the past couple of weeks, I've listened as Calvin and other seniors from Clovis High School received honors for their scholastic, athletic and community service enterprise. These are the school's best and brightest. How a son of mine got there I don't know.

School administrators read the students' pre-scripted dreams and goals as well as their accomplishments. Some of their plans amazed me. One is heading off to college in India. Another is going to Africa to help foment change one farm at a time. Other careers included CIA, equine vet, cop, anesthesiologist, attorney, bioengineer, NASA.

I guess all parents go through this. Wondering. Worrying.

For some reason, I didn't much worry about my daughter, who's now 26 with a couple of kids, a house and a husband who races to do her bidding. She was driven, an overachiever like her brother.

My directive to her was less existential. I said, "Just finish college." She did, graduating with a degree in sociology/criminology from Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash.

She gave up a promising job in the Washington state juvenile justice division and is now working as a paralegal and loving it.

Jennifer didn't head into the CSI-influenced career she thought she would love. Life has a way of doing that.

Perhaps some of these Clovis High grads will find themselves drawn to clean energy if the industry in the San Joaquin Valley does indeed develop like I think it should. Should that happen, these college graduates may need to beef up their training.

And I know exactly where they can do it. Right here in the Valley. The infrastructure is already in place.

Photo: Seniors Calvin Nemeth and Georgia Petersen before prom.