To get a sense of the job market new college graduates face, consider the latest crop of nurses from Santa Rosa Junior College. Just eight of the 55 students are leaving with job offers – and that’s considered good news.

Last year, no graduates of the California community college’s associate degree nursing program had a job in hand.

“We’re excited that finally something is happening,” said Sharon Johnson, the program director.

This year’s slightly better performance is one of many signs around the country that 2010 is a better year than 2009 for landing that first job out of college – but not by much.

New nurses are looking for something – anything – as the down economy has slowed retirements in their otherwise promising field. Teachers also face intense competition for positions that in their case have been made scarce by state and local budget cuts.

Even graduates with sought-after degrees had less than sizzling prospects. Fewer than half of U.S. accounting majors could boast job offers this spring, one study found.

There are signs of life. Employers plan to hire 5 percent more new college graduates this year than they did a year ago, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, which also polled the future accountants.

The road to recovery appears long, however.

In 2007, about two-thirds of soon-to-be graduates in the association’s student survey reported having job offers in hand that spring. Just three years later, about 40 percent could say that.

“It’s been a little depressing,” said Lauren Wiygul, who will earn a master’s degree in secondary English education from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., this summer.

She applied to more than a dozen private schools and every public district in the Atlanta area.

After someone in human resources for the system in Georgia’s Gwinnett County mentioned a possible language arts opening, she took a day off work, traveled to Atlanta and personally delivered her resume to 13 middle and high schools, hoping to introduce herself to principals.

She met a lot of sympathetic secretaries but not one principal. She has yet to get an interview.

“One principal, she wasn’t rude, but she just e-mailed back, ‘Positions are posted on our website,”‘ Wiygul said. “I have worked really hard to be able to teach. I just feel stuck.”

Education majors have it toughest of the 2010 grads surveyed by the association of colleges and employers. Fewer than one in four had received job offers this spring.

The list of least sought-after majors included the physical sciences (such as chemistry and physics), languages, English, history or political science and journalism. Along with perennially popular accounting, the most attractive majors to employers were business administration, computer science, engineering and mathematics.

The private sector outlook didn’t improve last week when the Labor Department announced U.S. businesses added just 41,000 jobs in May, an indication employers are not yet ramping up hiring despite other signs of economic recovery.

The department offered better news Tuesday, saying job openings rose in April to their highest level since December 2008.

Some college career counselors report encouraging signs. Trudy Steinfeld, executive director of New York University’s Wasserman Center for Career Development, said banks and consulting firms that were invisible a year ago are “staffing up like crazy.”

But at the University of Texas at Arlington, associate director of career services Cheri Butler is advising students shut out of bank jobs to seek finance department positions in government, health care and education.

Wayne Wallace, director of the University of Florida’s Career Resource Center, said that regardless of the field, the watchwords for new graduates are patience, flexibility and short-term sacrifice for long-term gain.

“Graduates, if they are willing to be geographically mobile and reasonably flexible about what they’re willing to do to start out, tremendously increase their odds for success,” he said.