Rethinking College Degree Requirements in Hiring

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Truthfully, I need to do much more research before engaging in a debate on the value of a college degree. I have always been a staunch advocate for education, my mentors have always pushed me to go to college, and I passed that mental legacy on to my children. Things change. When we examine the current state of the economy and the difficulty facing recent grads looking for meaningful employment on graduation it points to a symptom of the change we should have been able to predict. In a free society where all mankind is assumed to be born equal, opportunity should be available to all. We extend that logic to mean that nobody should have an opportunity to fail. It may sound like heresy based on advice I have always given others, but I am teetering on the edge of changing my stand on how important it is to achieve that formal degree.

One thing that I do know is that many job descriptions copied from ages old corporate templates need to be blown up and rebuilt. For example, many companies require administrative assistants to have a bachelor’s degree to qualify for the job. Does this requirement really hold up under close scrutiny? Not really. It is in fact an elitist bias against those with excellent administrative skills who would make being a lifelong career admin their passion. As a recruiter on the corporate side I saw this trap closing around those who saw it as a jumping off point to bigger and better jobs, while often their ambitions required experience of an entirely different nature to make that leap. The same is true of many technician and programming jobs where a four-year degree contributed only a miniscule amount of the education required to do the job. There are countless others.

Discussing this inside of a locked-up, mind-blocked company always produces the same scripted dialog about the value of education expanding the mind or training people to think. In reality, this is the sign of the gods creating others in their image. “If it was good enough for me, it is good enough for them.” Unfortunately there is an almost Darwinian conclusion that only the fittest will survive and somehow that is a satisfactory conclusion. The truth is that many people do not find work related to their degree because their free will choice to follow their passion to study French Literature doesn’t crash until after the job search has them doing data entry… in English. But back to the corporate need, are we so narrow minded that we can’t see the value of a person without precisely the exact degree as dreamed up in a job description? Enduring the hardships of obtaining a degree should mean so much more regardless of the actual discipline. In some cases, no degree would suffice as well.

In a recent New York Times article it was reported that more than 70% of Americans matriculate at a four year college. That is the seventh highest of the developed nations surveyed. Less than two-thirds end up graduating. Including community colleges, that rate is only 53%. We can be proud that we are still above Hungary on that chart. A whopping 46% of those who enter a US college will fail to graduate in six years. Meanwhile, pushed by parents, professors, and precedent the nations student loan debt is over $113 billion dollars with many facing enormous debt and no degree. Of course, they do this willingly because they sincerely believe that they will not be qualified to fill one of those bogus job descriptions without a degree. Education wonks tout the number of 3 million unfilled jobs by 2018 for credentialed graduates, but I suspect that many could be filled without the degree if corporate America would be more realistic about their demands. Consider the source when listening to these reports.

Stating the obvious, many scientific and technical jobs not only require degrees, but also the need for advanced degrees and perhaps postdoctoral work to be able to do the job. We can’t hold every job up to these standards.

 
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