Are 4-Year Degree Requirements Still Necessary for Your Job Openings?

Here are tips for determining whether or not to drop college education requirements for new hires.


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Are 4-Year Degree Requirements Still Necessary for Your Job Openings?

Last month the State of Maryland announced that it is dropping its 4-year degree requirements for thousands of state jobs. Rather than requiring candidates to have bachelor’s degrees, the state’s labor and budget management departments outlined a program for recruiting workers who are “skilled through alternative routes”, or STAR for short.

“Job seekers aged 25 or older, with a high school diploma or equivalent and vigorous experience (either through community college education, apprenticeships, military service and bootcamps, and on-the-job-training) are eligible for this initiative,” Caroline Colvin wrote of the program in HR Drive.

If institutions as big as an entire state are making the move to drop bachelor’s degree requirements, maybe your small business should consider doing the same. Here’s how to decide whether or not 4-year degree requirements are still necessary for your job openings.

4-year degree requirements have created an opportunity gap

People with 4-year degrees have a much higher chance of becoming middle class than people without them. But who has access to a 4-year education? Typically it’s people whose parents have money and those who are already affluent that have the best access to a 4-year college degree.

Plus, even though there has been increasing equality when it comes to enrolling in college, completing a degree is another thing. “Almost half of all college students and much higher proportions of poor and minority students group out before they complete a degree,” explains the Brookings Institute’s Isabel V. Sawhill. It’s not that they don’t complete degrees because they can’t handle the coursework.

Instead, it’s factors like cost, lack of information about available financial aid, and the more immediately pressing demands of family and work that keep them from walking across the graduation stage.

What this means for you and your business is that, if you stick with 4-year degree requirements, you’re going to have a much harder time reaching your diversity, equity, and inclusion goals. By getting rid of the barriers that keep diverse candidates from qualifying for jobs in the first place, you’ll boost your diversity efforts practically immediately.

A degree isn’t the only way to measure qualifications

As the Maryland program shows, there are plenty of ways that someone can become skilled, experienced, and ultimately qualified for a job. From apprenticeships and associate’s degrees to training programs and on-the-job experience, there are plenty of ways for someone to learn.

Plus, with the wide array of online programs and digital master classes (think code academies), more people than ever are training and working in something entirely different than what they studied in school.

From apprenticeships and associate’s degrees to training programs and on-the-job experience, there are plenty of ways for someone to learn.

That said, it does take a bit of work to pivot away from 4-year degrees. For certain positions, you’ll want to outline what those alternative qualifications could be. If your hiring team is already running thin, they simply might not have the time to do what it takes to get rid of 4-year degree requirements now.

But that doesn’t mean that you can’t make it a goal for the future or take an alternative approach. Try asking the people doing those jobs now what qualifications make sense for the work that they do. You can always take their advice, test drive new hiring requirements, and improve the process as you go.

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Degree inflation in job requirements is real

As a 2017 Harvard Business School report found, the demand for a college degree has been rising for some time. Even middle-skilled jobs (those that require more education than a high school diploma but not as much as a 4-year degree) have pivoted towards making bachelor’s degrees a requirement.

The result? “Degree inflation — the rising demand for a 4-year college degree for jobs that previously did not require one — is a substantive and widespread phenomenon that is making the U.S. labor market more inefficient,” wrote Joseph Fuller, one of the report’s authors. The inefficiency occurs because, while the vast majority of jobs now require 4-year degrees, just a 1/3 of the adult population has one.

That means that businesses big and small are fighting over the same small pool of candidates. Meanwhile, plenty of people who could do the job just as well are needlessly sidelined.

If your business has been struggling to attract candidates or if you’re often losing out to larger corporations, relaxing your degree requirements could be the solution you need.

Your competitors are likely starting to drop their degree requirements

Especially if you’re in the tech sector, your competitors are likely doing away with 4-year degree requirements or will soon. That means that in order to stay competitive in a job market where there’s already a tight squeeze for talent, you will likely have to do the same.

Getting rid of a 4-year degree requirement doesn’t just mean dropping the line from a job posting. It can mean an innovative re-envisioning of how hiring and recruitment works at your small business.

Alongside posting external job listings, why not outline internally what kind of upskilling would be necessary for an existing worker to fill the role? Then help them do it. Considering that younger generations are hungry for professional development opportunities, why not focus on increasing the skills and experience of the people you already have?

Bringing in people with new perspectives can boost innovation.

Another way to rethink hiring without 4-year degree requirements is to expand the base of industries that you look at when you’re hiring for a given position. Plenty of industries have operations and logistics jobs. Why not look to adjacent industries to fill those roles? That way you can expand your pool of applicants who have experience but might not have a bachelor’s degree to go with it.

Plus, bringing in people with new perspectives can boost innovation. They can help companies to see and solve problems in new ways.

Change can always feel a little daunting, but chances are that getting rid of 4-year degrees is the direction in which the modern workplace is headed. Why not get ahead of the curve and be on the leading edge? The alternative is to be left behind and no one wants that.


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