RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This year more than a million and a half new college grads will hit the job market in the U.S., and weve been meeting a few of them this week in our series Setting Out.
Today, reporter Emilie Ritter of Montana Public Radio has the story of a young Native American who's trying to figure out what to do with his degree in television production.
RITTER: For the last few years, Buddy Cowart has been stocking the shelves at a local home improvement store, working part-time to pay his way through college.
Mr. BUDDY COWART: We have these ones up here.
RITTER: The Native American 29-year-old is the only member of his family to get a college degree. It just took him a while to do it.
Mr. COWART: This is year eight, finally. So I should be a doctor or a master. I should be a master of something, but I'm just a bachelor.
RITTER: This spring Buddy graduated from the University of Montana School of Journalism with a degree in radio/television production. He was born in a small town near the North Dakota border to a teenage mom, and was later adopted by an older couple in Missoula.
After high school he decided to head straight into the workforce but soon realized he wanted something more. When Buddy first told his parents he was signing up for classes at the U, they weren't really sure how he'd pay for it. He relied totally on student loans.
Mr. COWART: When you're in school, you're learning. Youre getting these statements about what you owe, but you're not really, youre like, oh, I don't have to pay on that until I graduate. That's not for eight years, especially if youre me. So I'm like, you know, I didnt really think about it. But then, now that I'm graduated, you know, the reality is sort of setting in like, oh, I have to pay this back.
RITTER: Buddy racked up $50,000 in student loan debt. He'll have to start paying that back later this year. Between finishing up his senior project, graduating and working close to full-time at the home improvement store, he hasnt had time to start applying for jobs.
Mr. COWART: It would be ideal for me to find a job just shooting video. That's what I love to do, and editing it, and traveling around and meeting people and just hearing stories. Or else having my own business. That's something I'm seriously considering.
Professor DENISE DOWLING (University of Michigan): Often the entry-level jobs are sitting in an edit bay overnight, logging tape that someone else has shot. But that's where they start.
RITTER: Denise Dowling is one of Buddy's professors in the journalism school. She says most of the 2010 graduates coming out of the J school already have jobs and most know theyll need more than one job in order to make ends meet.
Prof. DOWLING: The reality is the wages aren't good because there are so many people who are willing to do the work that it does take time to get to a point where you really feel like youre making a good living at your career.
RITTER: Back at the home improvement store, Buddy says he was expecting to take on full-time hours here once he graduated. In summers past, he'd work 40 or more hours a week to save up for the school year. But this year's different.
Mr. COWART: Im only getting 30 hours a week and my boss has told me that's all he can give me right now 'cause things are tough and I'm lucky to have that. So what do I do now, you know? What do I do now? What do I do now? I just really don't know.
RITTER: When Buddy chose his major, the TV production industry was completely different and the recession hadn't even started. He wanted to pick a career that would allow him to be creative, working on documentary projects and long-form storytelling. Those jobs are few and far between around the country, especially in Montana. And for now, Buddy wants to be able to stay close to home so he can continue caring for his elderly father.
Mr. COWART: How am I going to start off at making minimum wage maybe? That's a whole 'nother reason why I feel like I need to get a job in what I went to school for. It's just - I just dont want it to go to waste.
RITTER: He doesnt want to disappoint his father, his teachers or himself.
For NPR News, I'm Emilie Ritter in Helena, Montana.
MONTAGNE: Tomorrow in our series we meet a new graduate who's trying to find his groove as a professional musician.
Unidentified Man: I'm a percussionist, so we tend to be pretty laid back. I mean if all else fails and I can't find a job, I'll just, I'll have to get a normal job for the first time in my life.
MONTAGNE: That's tomorrow on our series Setting Out, here on MORNING EDITION.