Blog Post

Has the College Degree Lost Its Luster? Employers Consider Alternative Ways to Vet Applicants

Ira S. Wolfe

President, Success Performance Solutions

Education has long been the currency of work opportunities. Years spent in school translate to employment, with employers looking to college degrees as proof of potential, skill, commitment and motivation.

Recently, though, it's become clear that the hiring exchange rate has some holes.

The premise that education equals competence—and that more education equals better skills—is problematic. This thinking was applicable when jobs (and the skills required to perform them) evolved slowly, but times are different now. A traditional college degree takes four years to earn, but the rate of change in technological and economic cycles much faster. Today, the majority of college students graduate with the "wrong" degrees for the job market.

With the unemployment rate in the U.S. dropping below 4 percent nationwide and college degrees becoming increasingly inaccurate representations of work-preparedness, employers are left seeking new approaches. Increasingly, they are replacing their current hiring strategies—based on degrees and certifications—with competency-based selection and more wight given to life experiences.

The Tech Industry Looks Beyond the Bachelor's Degree

Google, Apple, and at least 12 other big-name firms no longer require new hires to have a college degree, marking a growing trend in the technology space. The sector is particularly conducive to a hiring practice that's less degree-based and more skills-based largely because of the existence of bootcamps and skill-specific training programs for areas like engineering and development. Not only do these programs prepare students faster and with greater focus than four-year colleges, they're also much more affordable.

Coding academies like The Fortress Academy and Wyncode are just two examples of programs offering students immediate access to job-specific training that can then springboard them into good paying careers. Wyncode reports a job placement rate of over 90 percent within 90 days of completing the program, landing graduates in roles at tech companies like Amazon, Wix and Magic Leap. Nationwide, coding bootcamps are expected to grow by 52 percent over the next year.

There are also other ways to gain the valuable experience needed to perform a job besides completing college or a bootcamp. "Why not use the same line of reasoning that many colleges and universities are using for military and National Guard experience," asks Kelly Lewis, President & CEO at Lewis Strategic. Lewis cites a successful program at Bloomsburg University where veterans and reservists earn school credit for the time they served in the military. In general, life experience can sometimes offer better training than schoolwork—an individual that worked at a family business from a very young age might have as much, if not more, experience than a recent MBA graduate.

New Jobs Equal New Education Pathways

No-college-required jobs aren't exclusive to the technology sector, either. Glassdoor recently compiled a list of top employers that no longer require applicants to have college degrees, including brands like Costco, Hilton, Publix, Home Depot, Starbucks and Bank of America.

A report from market research company Forrester also suggests that—thanks to advancements in technology that automates a number of critical functions—positions like design verification engineer, financial blockchain engineer, database manager, wind turbine technician, pharmacy technician, medical equipment repairer, plumbers and even nuclear medicine technologist will no longer require a four-year college degree. The report forecasts that 8.9 million new jobs will be created by 2025, and many won't require a traditional educational pathway.

As work evolves and jobs continue to churn, we will likely see digital badges—certificates of courses completed or experience gained—carrying as much credibility as an academic degree. Combined with portfolios of work, apprenticeships and work experience, employers will be able to target more desirable candidates in a larger, more diverse talent pool, while workers will have more opportunities to prove their fitness for a job.

So far, the results of this new hiring trend speak for themselves.

"Today, 66.9 percent of our new IT employees do not have a college degree," says Cristian Rennella, a co-Founder of

Research by the International Fab Lab Network founded at MIT's Center for Bits & Atoms confirmed the trend—their research of 200 manufacturers of new technologies like 3D printing, robotics and CAD design showed that a college degree is not necessary.

Photo: Creative Commons

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