Is a college degree still worth it and is a degree even necessary to land an excellent job? It is a question increasingly on the minds of Gen Z, their parents and millions of Americans who are contemplating a return to school. It’s also the topic of a July Washington Post article.
The “should I go back” ambiguity is reflected across higher education where two- and four-year institutions across the nation continue to struggle with low enrollment. University Business, an online site for higher education leaders, found perception of higher education rose slightly in 2021 but favorability is limited to adult learnings.
With more questioning the necessity of a degree, state and private employers are taking notice with some choosing to eliminate the requirement for a bachelor’s degree in positions where skills or job experience could suffice. It is a move welcomed by the estimated forty million Americans who have college credits, and college debt, but no degree.
With this move, job seekers once barred by the requirement of a college degree now have more opportunities. In March, Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland eliminated requirements for a bachelor’s degree from a number of the state’s government positions. The announcement from Governor Hogan was followed by Governor Jared Polis of Colorado who directed the state’s government agencies to hire for skills, not degrees. The trend to recede requirements for a bachelor’s degree are also finding acceptance in the private sector.
Combatting Degree Inflation
Push back against the ubiquitous need for a bachelor’s degree is a counter to degree inflation that reached a peak during the Great Recession (2007-2009). During this period, hiring managers could afford to be choosy in their hiring as competition rose for a decreasing number of jobs. This was particularly true of so-called “middle-skills” jobs in areas such as sales, IT and healthcare – roles that typically require training and education but not necessarily a bachelor’s degree.
Potentially Serving More
Although the call for degrees remains high, it does not reflect the demographics of many Americans. The U.S. Census found 62% of Americans over the age of twenty-five do not have a bachelor’s degree, according to the department’s Educational Attainment in the U.S. 2021 report released in February 2022. This number is even higher for Black adults (72%) and 79% for Hispanic adults.
As recessionary fears take hold of more Americans, an alternative option of no degree could be welcome news for those seeking a job and equally positive for those looking to fill open positions. This new mindset is finding some colleges shifting curriculum to a more skills-based focus, but cost and time constraints remain a factor.
Not to mention, job seekers still need to develop skills. Obtaining these skills outside the four-year college/university structure often comes in the form of certifications, workforce training, community college courses and job experience. And those who dream of further career advancement will still likely need a four-year degree.