Do Your Candidates Really Need a College Degree?

As a hiring manager tasked with making major decisions, it’s easy to target a college degree as a way of saying yes, this candidate is qualified. I mean, how many times have we seen candidates without degrees try to squeeze their way into positions that they aren’t qualified for. In fact, many hiring managers (maybe like yourself) believe that college degrees make candidates more job-ready. However, the current job market has shifted so much recently that it begs the question

Do candidates really need a college degree to be successful in the role you are hiring for?

What’s Changed?

Picture it. It’s the late 80’s/early 90’s, and you’re hiring an office administrator. In the last decade, mass production has made new computers smaller and more affordable, which means your hiring office has finally got a few. As you sit at your desk pecking away at the keyboard, you are thinking of all the boxes you need your office administrator to tick to be considered qualified for the job. At the top of your list – a college degree.

I mean at that point in time, less than 23% of the American population had a college degree. So, graduating from college MUST mean that the applicant is a top-notch candidate. Right?

Well… it’s nearly impossible to use that same logic today. Here’s why.

College Degrees Aren’t So Novel

First of all, nearly

40% of Americans have a college degree now.

There are two ways to look at this. For one, college degrees aren’t as novel anymore. Other than the fact that college is insanely expensive, it tends to be really easy for most people to get accepted into a two- or four- year program, whether it is online or in-person. This is due to the large number of schools and programs that are available. So, just because someone has a college degree, that doesn’t mean that they are particularly job-ready.

Here’s another way to look at it. While 40% is a good number of college graduates, it also excludes 60% of the eligible population. So, when you make a college degree a requirement, you are excluding more than half of the US population. In the 70’s and 80’s, that wouldn’t matter because much of the population wasn’t working anyways, especially not professional jobs. However, jobs and candidate demographics have shifted so much that you would be doing yourself a disservice by shrinking your potential for a wide, diverse candidate pool.

Who Can Even Afford It

Like this CNBC article states, college dreams aren’t what they used to be. Students spend their high school years finding a dream college and doing everything they can to get accepted. But by the end of their four years in high school (or even after a year or two in college), many realize that it is just too expensive.

A 2022 report from the National Clearinghouse Research Center shows that undergraduate enrollment is rapidly declining. Even with grants, scholarships, federal funding, and mom and dad’s pockets, young adults are still unable to afford college without incurring a stifling amount of debt. So, instead of chasing the college experience, many are entering the workforce, gaining experience through internships, and relying on certification programs and self-education. So, not having a college degree doesn’t necessarily mean that you are uneducated.

Wide-Spread Skepticism

Along with rising costs for a college degree, there is a growing skepticism for whether higher education is even THAT important to having a successful career.

By the end of 2021, it was estimated that

41.3% of college graduates were underemployed.

To add to that, hardly anyone with a bachelor’s degree is actually working in a field related to what they studied. Many are even working a first job that doesn’t require a bachelor’s degree.

So with college graduates finding themselves in similar situations as people who did not even go to college, many young adults are asking

what’s the point?

Do Candidates Need a College Degree?

We say all of that to say that for many reasons, we are seeing a generation of people who don’t prioritize a college education anymore. However, this does not mean that they are unqualified or uneducated. In fact, many young adults who aren’t going to college are opting for other options such as:

  • Immediate employment
  • Internships and job training
  • Self-education
  • Certifications and online courses
  • Vocational school

If you’ve noticed, many “entry-level” job descriptions (maybe even your own) prioritize years of experience. This is almost impossible for someone who just graduated, yet not really impossible for young adults who opted out of college. These young adults tend to have very specific job-training, -experience, and -education that many college graduates would need extra time to build. However, because they don’t have a college degree, they are often overlooked.

So, as you recruit and source candidates for your open roles, you have to ask yourself if you are ready to give someone a chance that doesn’t have a college degree.

How Can You Make Sure the Candidate is Qualified?

Don’t get me wrong. College degrees can still lend useful information about the candidate. However, they are just less of an indicator to tell you if someone is qualified or not. And believe it or not, there are other facets that can help you make that decision.

First, you need to decide what is important to you. If you just have to have a candidate with a college degree, then so be it. Just know that you are really down-sizing your candidate pool and reducing the opportunity to diversify your workforce. If you are open to explore, then some of the things you should focus on during the hiring process is:

  • The type of experience – where did the candidate learn/develop? what role did they play in previous positions?
  • How long the candidate has had this experience – how long has the candidate been performing certain duties?
  • The type of skills – do their skills align with what looks like a successful employee?

From there, you can use other methods to assess reliability. There’s pre-employment testing, video screening, reference checks, and ultimately well-planned interviews.

The Bottom Line

As you can see, you don’t really have to do anything different to evaluate candidates without a college degree vs a candidate with one. At the end of the day, it’s hard to use a college degree as a basis for whether candidates are qualified. Degrees just don’t have the same meaning as they once had. As a result, people are adapting and finding other ways to educate themselves and prepare themselves for the workforce. It’s just time for businesses and companies to catch up.

Companies who don’t require a college degree to work in their offices:

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