Ashley Bernardo's future seemed clear when she enrolled in the University of Nevada, Las Vegas College of Business. After graduation, she would live with her parents in the valley for a spell, following in her father's footsteps as a financial analyst for the federal government.
That was back in 2006, before the recession choked most of the hope out of those UNLV students scheduled to smack the real world come May.
"All the guest speakers we've had in class keep saying how terrible the Las Vegas economy is," Bernardo said, "and how you need to go somewhere else if you want a job or a loan to start a business."
Bernardo, 21, now sees herself in Los Angeles or Washington, D.C., (where her parents, incidentally, were forced to locate so her dad could continue working).
"I'm just looking for any type of job," she said. "I don't even care what it is."
According to an informal survey of 42 graduating seniors conducted by the Review-Journal, 12 -- or 28.5 percent -- said they plan to live elsewhere after graduation. And six of those said it's not by choice. (Nineteen planned to stay, while 11 didn't know.)
Benjamin Mitchell, a 30-year-old electrical engineering major from Pasadena, Calif., said Las Vegas is his first choice. But he has an out-of-town interview lined up to go with two in the valley.
"Right now, in this economy, you can't predict what's going to happen in this town," Mitchell said.
The UNLV career services office said its annual survey of 800 new graduates shows a significantly lower percentage planning to flee for other cities: 3 percent. The UNLV survey, which shows no increase from the school years 2007-2008 to 2008-2009, is consistent with what the National Association of Colleges and Employers finds. (This year's UNLV survey has not been conducted yet.)
The student exodus is probably greater than either survey reveals, however, since many who intend to stay might ultimately be unable to.
"There's no official survey to indicate where students end up landing a job," said UNLV spokeswoman Afsha Bawany. "What they end up doing may be different (from what they planned) based on the opportunities they find."
In addition, the number of graduating seniors planning to stay put probably gets an artificial boost from those who choose not to enter the work force. Five of the seniors surveyed by the R-J said they plan to wait the recession out in a UNLV grad school they probably wouldn't have otherwise considered.
Chris Russ, a 21-year-old Maryland resident, is entering the school's dual master of business administration/management information systems program.
"I've talked to a lot of my professors and even they say they're teaching here to wait out the recession," Russ said.
In the hotel college -- a significant lure for UNLV students intending to plant roots after graduation -- management training programs previously offered to graduating seniors by Las Vegas heavies Harrah's, MGM Mirage and Station Casinos have not been offered for the past two years. This spring, they're limited to the more nationally oriented Marriott, Starwood, Hyatt, Fairmont, Hard Rock Cafe and J. Alexander's chains.
Career services executive director Eileen McGarry said that UNLV is "encouraging flexibility in relocating" because of problems with the Las Vegas economy.
"Career counselors are seeing more students open to relocation," McGarry said, "even though their preference is to stay in Las Vegas."
Of the 14 R-J-surveyed seniors intending to stay and pound the pavement, 10 said they're rolling the proverbial dice -- although four reported solid job prospects. Graduating university studies major Garrett Cox said a plum internship awaits him at MGM Grand.
Few students have his qualifications, however.
"My dad's kind of high up in the company," the 24-year-old said. "Otherwise, I don't know what I would have done -- other than look for work."
Contact reporter Corey Levitan at clevitan@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0456.