a bachelor's degree

Do You Really Need a Bachelor’s Degree?

Employers are rethinking whether they should require a college degree when filling open positions. Here’s what to consider when making your own decision.

“Bachelor’s or higher required.” Sound familiar? If you’ve done any job hunting recently, there’s no doubt it does. It’s almost an afterthought of a bullet point in job listings, but organizations across industries are starting to reconsider what should go in job descriptions and challenging what used to be seen as a red flag of hiring.

More employers are coming to the conclusion that a degree isn’t necessary much of the time—and associations might do well to rethink the college degree mandate for many of their positions.

Before making a college degree a job requirement, consider the practicality of mandating a college degree; its impact on your diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts; what each role really demands from candidates; and potential alternatives to degrees, such as credentials and apprenticeships.

Are You Narrowing Your Talent Pool?

If you require a bachelor’s degree as a matter of course, you might exclude strong candidates who are otherwise highly qualified for a position. Additionally, doing so can hinder your association’s DEI efforts, serving as a barrier to underrepresented and underpaid groups seeking professional positions. And the pandemic has compounded racial disparities in learning and achievement, making it even harder for some minority groups to complete four-year degree programs.

“Nor is the imbalance necessarily about academic merit,” argued Jon Marcus in The Hechinger Report, a publication that examines inequality in education. Marcus cites a report from the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce. “Tenth graders from the highest-income families who score in the bottom half of math tests in high school are nonetheless more likely to finish college than their classmates from the lowest-income families who score in the top half.”

When to Require a Degree

Of course, some specialized jobs truly do require not just bachelor’s degrees, but master’s degrees and other credentials. Think doctors, lawyers, engineers, architects. But some jobs can be expertly learned through experience, so capable candidates can develop the skills needed to excel even if they don’t have a degree or years of experience with every piece of software or tool they’ll use on the job.

“Requiring a medical degree to treat patients or a civil engineering degree to design a bridge is common sense. By contrast, requiring a generic college degree to be considered for jobs such as office manager, sales representative, digital marketer, or data center technician may be common, but it makes no sense,” argued Byron Auguste, CEO of Opportunity@Work and former deputy director of the National Economic Council, in the Washington Post.

Look at the STARs (Skilled Through Alternative Routes)

There’s the argument that a bachelor’s degree is what signals to organizations that a candidate has the cognitive skills and work ethic to thrive in the working world. While a degree is certainly one way to harness those faculties, be open to candidates who have gone down other paths—or, as Auguste calls them, STARs: people who are “skilled through alternative routes.” These are candidates who have completed relevant certificate and training courses, or another program showing skill and tenacity, such as the military.

(Michael Burrell/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Michael Hickey

By Michael Hickey

Michael Hickey is a contributor to Associations Now. MORE

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