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Why to Consider Removing the Degree Requirement from Your Next Job Posting

Obtaining a bachelor’s degree at a four-year college or university has been largely promoted as the surest path to career success in the United States for decades. The labor market reinforced this notion by requiring degrees for everything from entry-level white-collar to supervisory blue-collar positions. However, in the mid- to late-2010s this trend started to change.

Background

The prevalence of requiring a degree has been driven by two main factors. The first is the common belief that completing a degree program is evidence of certain traits and skills. It is thought that it demonstrates desirable behavioral traits like grit and determination. It is also believed that college graduates will have developed advanced writing, verbal communication, and interpersonal skills.

The second factor is the state of the economy and the labor market. The trend to require degrees accelerated in reaction to the recession in the late 2000s which resulted in millions of Americans being out of work. This prompted companies to be more selective about new hires, causing them to require higher levels of education and more experience. This also allowed human resource departments overwhelmed with resumes to quickly narrow down the applicant pool.

However, as the economy rebounded and unemployment began a steep decline through 2019, companies found themselves having to loosen requirements to fill positions. Now, the pandemic has caused a drastic shift in the economy and labor market once again. The long-term impacts of how this may impact degree requirements is yet to be seen.

Advantages of Waiving a Degree Requirement

Beyond reacting to the supply and demand of degreed applicants, businesses of all shapes and sizes are starting to realize the numerous advantages of allowing experience and other forms of training and education to substitute for a traditional degree requirement.

  • Education Isn’t Keeping Up – According to Zoe Harte, Senior VP, Head of HR & Talent Innovation at Upwork, “Our education system is not keeping up with the needs businesses have.” Current education is not adapting quickly enough to the rapidly changing talent needs of businesses. By and large, businesses need more specific, technical, and focused skills than what general subject-matter degrees tend to provide.

A Learning House and Future Workplace study found that those companies that have or would waive a degree requirement are willing to accept multiple other forms or credentials. A majority (66%) of employers said they would accept a recognized certification or other certificate program. Almost half (47%) would accept an online degree from massive open online courses and nearly a quarter will accept an online badge. The key here is that these credentials demonstrate highly specific knowledge and skills.

  • Company-Specific Training & Development – Compounding the issue of education not keeping up is that more and more businesses, especially large firms, are running on customized or proprietary software and systems. They also have highly specific standard operating procedures. Many companies are realizing that company knowledge, paired with aptitude and customized training, often eliminates or supersedes the need for a degree.

 

  • Increasing Diversity/Anti-Discrimination – Waiving a degree requirement also exposes businesses to a more diverse candidate pool. The benefits and positive impacts of a diverse workforce are well documented and discussed. Promoting diversity isn’t just good for your business in a creative or cultural sense, it can also matter to you legally.

Requiring a degree, especially when it’s not truly necessary, may lead to a discrimination claim. While it is unlikely discrimination is the intent of a degree requirement, it is an unfortunate outcome. According to a 2018 Pell Institute study, kids from higher-income houses were five times as likely to obtain a bachelor’s degree as those from lower-income houses. Removing the degree requirement in lieu of equivalent experience or other type of certification helps to alleviate this issue.

When it comes to making the decision about whether to require a degree, it will likely be on case by case basis. There are some positions for which a degree is required by law, such as a CPA, lawyer, and most medical professionals. These professions aside, it will ultimately depend on preference and the skills needed for the specific position. Before your business places its next job listing, take a second to consider if a degree is really needed. If you plan to waive a degree requirement for a role that commonly has one, make sure the minimum equivalent experience balances this out.

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