This weekend I attended my cousin’s college graduation from the same college I graduated from three years ago.

Sitting there with my feelings of déjà vu, I thought back to when I was sitting in that chair. One of the reasons why Gen Y is such an important target, aside from credit unions’ aging membership, is the potential business opportunities this group presents. The generation spreads across a wide range of age groups at very different life stages, but for me personally, I think the post-graduation stage may be one of the most important stages for credit unions to capitalize on.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in April 16.4% of 20-to-24-year-olds were unemployed. Four years ago, when I graduated, the job market was tough. It took me a year of endless interviews and thousands of resumes sent out to land a job. Now, tough doesn’t even describe what these graduates are facing.

I’m sure there are some lucky graduates that have managed to secure jobs, but for many continuing their educations may seem like a great option right now. Students who have loans are facing repayment in a few short months and the chances of finding a job in that time doesn’t look promising. One of the reports coming out of the economic downturn has been that many of those who have been laid off are choosing to go back to school. Many of those graduating now may choose to hold off on entering the workforce and those that try and look for a job may choose to go back if they are unsuccessful in their search.

I’ve preached the importance of student loans as a tool to gain Gen Y members before, but I think this is an area that has grown in importance over the past two years and will continue to grow.

Returning to my alma mater resurrected an argument my mother and I continue to have, which is whether or not I should go back to school for my masters’ degree. My mother feels strongly that this is a necessity, while I don’t feel an urgent need to go back to school.

My bottom line is that an education when broken down is an expense and not by any means a small expense.

My mother’s argument, and I admit a valid one, is that down the road there will be a large number of people entering the work force with graduate degrees. To compete and advance without one, I will be at a disadvantage.

The big question is how do I pay for it?

The need for undergraduate private student loans among students continues to grow as well as the need for graduate private student loans.

In my column last month I cited a statistic from the Project on Student Debt that said Gen Yers are graduating from college with an average of $23,000 in student debt. Students that finish college and go straight to graduate school are adding to that debt without the opportunity to pay it down or save money to pay for graduate school. They will come out of graduate school, hopefully into a better job market, with an education that puts them in a better position to get a good job, but also in debt. And if there is one thing that this economy has taught me, it is that there is nothing that ever guarantees you a job.

This is the battle I face and I know I am not alone. Do I add to my debt to make myself more marketable in my career? When will I be able to pay it all off? What if I graduate and still can’t find a job?

These are real concerns and real questions among students and their families. Whether it is undergraduate or graduate school the reality is that there are not many people that can take on the cost of one or both without creating debt.

The opportunities for credit unions just to lend to students right now are large, and the opportunities for credit unions to lend to students while providing good financial guidance are endless.

Since I last wrote a column pushing for student lending. I have seen an increasing number of credit unions create programs, but there are still a good number of credit unions that don’t have such programs. Student loans are new to credit unions, and taking on a new product in the industry at this time may seem too risky, but I don’t see how any credit union can consider themselves proponents of gaining new younger members and not offer them the service of helping to further their education.

Credit unions pride themselves on being service focused. My generation doesn’t just need loans, but we need guidance and credit unions need to be that source for us.

–lsiegriest@cutimes.com