NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
Study hard, get into a good college, graduate -- move back in with Mom and Dad?
That's hardly what most parents had in mind as they were cutting checks for upwards of $100,000 to cover college costs. But the moribund economy has created some of the dimmest job prospects in years for grads.
According to a study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 42 percent of employers plan to hire fewer new college graduates than they did last year. Meanwhile, only a few graduates with the most lucrative degrees can expect higher starting salaries than in years past.
As a result, the Class of 2003 finds its ranks filled with so-called "boomerang" twenty-somethings. In fact, 61 percent of college seniors plan to return to their family home after graduation, according to a survey taken this spring by Monster.com.
Turning the tables: on grads, moms and dads
This year's class isn't the only one living at home, however. Young adults in their twenties -- some armed with graduate degrees -- have also returned to the nest.
Consider the Ferris family in Southboro, Mass., where daughters Danielle, 22, and Nicole, 26, are both living at home. Danielle earned an undergraduate degree in communications from the University of Denver this month and is currently receiving a modest stipend from an internship.
Nicole graduated from U. Denver with a master's in international relations last June and is working at a Boston foundation. Neither earns enough to cover rent in the pricey Boston area, though they do cover their own daily expenses, including student loans.
"I think they're surprised that after all the money spent on college, their compensation in the workplace is so low," says their father, Neil Ferris.
Says Dee Lee, a certified financial planner and author of Let's Talk Money: "They started college thinking they'd be millionaires by the time they were 25 -- now they've got their tails between their legs. The world fell apart while they were in school."
Lee advises families to set some basic fiscal ground rules. First, ask grads to contribute toward household bills, even if it's just a small amount.
That's what Lee did when her daughter returned home after college.
"At first we had a confrontation about it. She wanted to know, 'What do you mean I have to pay rent?' But I showed her what it costs to run a house. I told her, 'If you come there's more water, heat, electricity and food bills,'" said Lee. "She had never thought about it."
There are benefits to asking kids to chip in, says Lee. On a practical level, most parents of adult-age children have to save for their retirement, too. If they continue to dig into savings to bankroll their graduates, they may well risk the financial security of their own future.
Asking grads to pitch in also makes it clear that they have to spend time finding work, not watching soap operas. It also demonstrates that parents view their kids as capable individuals, not helpless children.
"Being treated as an adult is far better than being treated as a kid on the dole," says Lee.
Tough love vs. handouts
Nicole Shifman, 22, graduated from the College of William & Mary with a bachelor's degree in English literature. Shifman has returned from campus to live with her parents in Newton, Mass.
"None of my really close girlfriends have jobs that will lead to any type of career for them," says Shifman, who counts herself as "lucky," because she has lined up a paying internship at a marketing company that can help her build a resume and a viable career.
According to Shifman, it was her parents that pushed her to get the internship when they began urging her to conduct dozens upon dozens of informational interviews with people in the marketing and public relations field.
"I felt a lot of pressure from them," she admits. "But I knew it was for the best."
Because she knew she'd have to live at home, Shifman called Boston-area contacts from school rather than conducting face-to-face interviews. Nevertheless, those calls proved fruitful when she heard of, and eventually landed, her current internship, which lasts through August.
"What would drive me crazy is to have a kid move back home, sit on the couch and eat Cheese Doodles all day," says Fran Shifman, who doesn't make Nicole pay rent because she wants her daughter to save money to move out.
"If she were a different kind of kid, one who was perfectly content staying at home forever with no ambition, then I'd put my foot down," says Shifman.