As a child of the 1970s and 80s, I remember when society reinforced the notion that a college degree was the golden ticket to good jobs and economic stability. However, the lack of available workers has caused political leaders and employers to rethink their stance on the four-year degree requirement. As a result, organizations are slowly beginning to move away from requiring a bachelor’s degree for certain positions.
Not long ago, then-President Barack Obama continually asserted that a college education was the surest route to the middle class, and college enrollments surged as a result. But on Monday, the former president asked for more states to incorporate the ‘skills not degrees’ initiative. This forward-thinking move is being backed by both Democrats and Republicans along with various well-known corporations.
For starters, The Bureau of Labor Statistics report revealed that government employment is still below the pre-pandemic number by 1.6%, even though 46,000 jobs were added in February. This is indicative of the difficult situation businesses and individuals have faced due to the tight labor market.
Even state governments have been impacted. For example, the shortage of staff has caused serious issues with water availability, transit security, and natural disaster relief efforts.
And those issues have led to states’ local municipalities having to a) offer signing bonuses to attract workers and b) ask for federal support during times of distress.
Perhaps those are short-term solutions but not real fixes. As a result, state governments are looking for an alternative way to fill gaps in their vacancies rather than continuing to boost the budgets for salaries and benefits to remain competitive with the private sector.
The answer: Open higher-level vacancies to skilled workers without a bachelor’s degree.
Fact: Roughly 62% of American adults over 25 don’t have a four-year degree, according to the Census Bureau.
Republican governors were the first to get rid of college-level criteria for executive branch roles. For instance, former Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland announced that his state would open up half of its 38,000 jobs to workers who’ve obtained skills and experience through community college, military service, boot camps, and on-the-job training.
“It’s time to debunk the fiction that a prestigious degree is the only key to the American dream,” Hogan wrote in an October 2022 Wall Street Journal op-ed.
Taking a cue from Maryland, Utah’s Governor Spencer Cox took the initiative to remove the necessity for a bachelor’s degree for 98% of the 1,080 state jobs by December 2022. Subsequently, Colorado’s Democratic leader, Jarid Polis, directed state organizations to prioritize job qualifications rather than degree requirements to give those without college diplomas a chance at employment.
Democratic governors are also of the opinion that strict college degree requirements can be a barrier for Americans to progress in their careers. Pennsylvania’s Governor Josh Shapiro recently signed a bill enabling 92%, or roughly 65,000 state jobs, to be accessible to people without any college degree.
“In Pennsylvania, the people should decide what path is best for them, not have it decided by some arbitrary requirement or any arbitrary limitation,” Shapiro said during a public signing ceremony, according to the Pennsylvania Capital-Star.
Since Shapiro’s move, Alaska’s Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy ordered state agencies to substitute practical experience for a degree in hiring where possible, and Georgia is near passing a law that would minimize positions requiring a bachelor’s degree.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Google utilizes its non-traditional college program to recruit personnel while IBM no longer insists on U.S. jobs requiring Bachelor’s degrees, In addition, Delta is suspending the mandatory four-year degree requirement for pilots.
While a college degree may have been the surefire way to achieve financial stability in the past, that’ll no longer be the case going forward. And although one’s earning potential surely increases by having a four-year degree, it may not be enough to guarantee a stable job and career.
As someone who graduated from a four-year institution in the 1990s, the college model is flawed and outdated today and was back then. Who needs to take all these frivolous elective courses when you know you won’t use any of what you’ve learned in your career? For me, classes like French, Biology, Music, and Poetry were a waste of hundreds of study and homework hours.
Before bipartisanship amongst politicians kicked in, businesses had already started looking beyond degrees. The CEOs of Tesla and Apple, Elon Musk and Tim Cook, respectively, were vocal with their grievances that higher education institutes do not provide the skills required to thrive in the job market. In fact, in 2019 Cook stated that half of Apple’s U.S. workforce didn’t have four-year degrees.
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