JUSTIN POPEModest good news for college students: An annual survey predicts employers will increase hiring of new 4-year college graduates about 5 percent in the coming year. Demand for graduates with associate's degrees is expected to increase more sharply â¿¿ by about 30 percent compared to last year's surveyâ¿¿ while MBA hiring appears headed for an unexpected decline. The 42nd annual survey out Thursday from Michigan State University's College Employment Research Institute collects responses on hiring plans from more than 2,000 U.S. employers. It paints a mixed picture reflecting an improving economy but also uncertainty over whether Congress and the White House will carry the country off the fiscal cliff in January, potentially sending the economy back into recession. The hiring numbers are certainly better than for students who graduated at the depths of the recession, but overall indicate less aggressive hiring than the last couple of years, which survey director Phil Gardner attributed to the political situation as well as weakness in sectors like defense. The survey was conducted before President Barack Obama won a second term. "Everybody just stopped making decisions to see how this election was going to be play out," Gardner said. "A lot of people are sitting on the fence." For 4-year college graduates, the report finds employers are looking most actively for business-related majors but demand is also strong for "all majors" â¿¿ an indication many employers want critical thinking skills that can be developed in many different courses of study. Demand for engineering, accounting and computer science majors appears somewhat softer than in previous years. As for those with MBAs â¿¿ master's level business degrees â¿¿ Gardner said it appears companies are more willing to fill jobs with bachelor's-only recipients, who command less salary. That's unfortunate for a glut of MBA students still coming up through the system.