06/21/2017 Molly Moseley

Requiring a college degree is BS

CC Image by COD Newsroom, Flickr

Is a college degree the new high school diploma? As most hiring managers can attest, the answer is yes.

Many entry-level jobs require a college education just to be considered as a candidate. Need an Associate of Science degree for data entry? Yep. A Bachelor of Arts degree for basic child care? Sure. A Bachelor of Science degree to be a file clerk? Yes — and that’s a lot of B.S.

Company leaders across the United States are hollering that it’s tough to find qualified workers to fill jobs, but perhaps those qualified workers are already there; they just don’t happen to measure up to the lofty degree requirements on the job post. It’s time to consider a shift in perspective.

President Trump’s workforce initiative that launched last week brings this topic center stage. Essentially it encourages apprenticeships, technical training and on-the-job training in lieu of companies defaulting to requiring college degrees. Ivanka Trump, who will lead the initiative, said, “There is a viable path other than a four-year college experience.”

Not all work requires a college degree, so why do so many companies require them? It wasn’t always this way. Bloomberg Businessweek explains, “When the job market was flooded with desperate applicants, many employers required college degrees for entry-level jobs. There was a certain cruel logic to it: Hey, might as well get the best.”

However, those standards didn’t fall when job markets tightened. Once HR up-credentials a position, requirements rarely get relaxed. “That could explain why 43 percent [of employers] say finding enough candidates is a top challenge in filling entry-level jobs,” the article notes.

Equally concerning is the $1.3 trillion in student loans in the U.S. The average class of 2016 graduate has $37,172 in student loan debt. That graduate must now vie for an entry-level job with a minimal salary or stay unemployed. They might not even work in the field of their degree! In fact, only 27 percent of college grads have a job related to their major.

I believe we are at the tipping point and soon will experience a renaissance in higher education. People are sick of being stuck with loads of debt for degrees they don’t use and therefore are seeking alternatives. This goes beyond job training and technical schools. People are using MOOCs (massive open online courses) providers like edX or Coursera. They are signing up for certification through trade organizations like the American Hotel and Lodging Educational Institute. They are considering corporate training through companies like IBM.

Educational organizations are starting to break the traditional college mold, too. MissionU is one such example. Launched in March, this 12-month college alternative offers a major in Data Analytics + Business Intelligence. The goal is to get people trained so they have the in-demand skills to get into the job market quickly. What makes it even more unique is there’s no tuition. Graduates pay 15 percent of their income for three years once they hit a salary of $50,000.

For employers and HR professionals, these trends are certainly something to note. It’s important to start looking beyond colleges and explore alternative training programs and vocational education in order to find quality candidates. If your applicant tracking system is eliminating candidates just because they don’t have a token 4-year degree, change it and see what happens. Most important, consider skill, experience and potential, not just the degree and name of their alma mater.