02/07/2012 12:40 pm ET

Just 6 Percent Of College Students Want To Work In Government: Poll

The public sector, the part of the economy experiencing cuts at every level, may soon be facing a staffing crisis of sorts.

Just 6 percent of students say they wanted to work for the government, whether at the federal, state or local level, according to the recently-published results of a survey conducted in early 2011 by the Partnership for Public Service. The Washington, D.C. -based nonprofit polled more than 35,000 students about their career aspirations and most said they were more interested in graduate school, non-profit work, employment in the private sector than government work.

The share of college students interested in working for the government has dropped two years in a row, getting smaller with every year of Barack Obama's presidency. In similar polls in 2009 and 2010, PPS found that 10.2 percent and 7.4 percent of college students, respectively, were interested in government work.

The PPS survey arrives at a moment when the public sector continues to struggle to hold onto its existing workforce. The recession pushed millions of Americans out of work, striking a severe blow to the government's tax intake and putting additional pressure on ballooning deficits at the local, state and federal levels.

As a result, some 700,000 government jobs were cut in the last three years. In 2011, public employees suffered more layoffs than any other group and federal payrolls are widely expected to keep shrinking through the year.

The ongoing attrition in the pubic sector might be one reason college students aren't more interested in government work. In the PPS survey, students were asked what qualities they considered most important for a first job. Job security came in second place, just behind "opportunities for personal growth."

Budget cuts have led officials to slash pay for government workers at the state and local levels, but fear of a reduced paycheck doesn't seem to be the principal reason for students' low interest in government work. Less than 9 percent of respondents in the PPS poll named a high starting salary as their main criteria for a first job.

It may simply be that with the unemployment rate finally beginning to deflate a bit, college students are more optimistic about finding private-sector jobs than they used to be. Students who graduated during the depths of the recession showed a greater likelihood to find work in government or public service than the graduates of just a few years before. Now, with hiring picking up, and almost a quarter of a million jobs created in the past month alone, students may have reason to feel more confident about finding work in the for-profit sector.