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College degree not required
Time for outdated mindsets about work experience to die
I saw a job posting recently for a marketing role. I always keep my eyes open — not for myself, but for many friends that are on the job hunt right now. If the job looks promising, I share the link.
But after reviewing this job description for a very well-known, prominent software company, I knew that I wouldn’t share it with anyone.
Requirements, in a much longer list of requirements:
8 years of marketing experience (fair)
4-year college degree in marketing, communications, or related field (UGH)
Nope, not passing that along to my friends. Add that to the list of job postings that say things like “We are a family!” or “Work hard, play hard” or unrealistic job expectations as a red flag.
Clearly, the company maintains an outdated mindset about job qualifications.
College degrees don’t tell you anything about current knowledge
College degrees only tell you that a person studied a field at some point and perhaps some time ago. In the case of this marketing role, a minimum of eight years ago since eight years of work experience were also required. Since the world changes so rapidly, college only captures knowledge at a certain point in time. (Was TikTok even a thing eight years ago?)
The same is true for many degrees, like my spouse’s degree in computer science. He learned some things back in 2006. And all of his relevant experience these days was learned on the job.
I’m not in the camp of people that think college degrees are worthless, but I’ve been questioning their relevance. Certainly, I take issue with the assertion that a college degree is required for many jobs, outside of roles that require specific certifications like accounting, doctors, or a law degree.
My first job out of college had “4-year degree required” on the list of qualifications. But my degree had nothing to do with the job. So that told the hiring manager… what, exactly?
The up-and-coming generation is questioning the relevance of a college degree as well. In The End of the English Major, published in The New Yorker, a junior at Harvard was applying for jobs and asked himself:
“What qualifies me for this job? Sure, I can research, I can write things. But those skills are very difficult to demonstrate, and it’s frankly not what the world at large seems in demand of.”
An argument could potentially be made for a college as a substitute for relevant work experience. Something like “studied marketing or four years of work experience.” At least having studied marketing might prepare someone for the theoretical aspects of the field. It becomes one option to show related experience, rather than a requirement — a way for young adults to enter the arena.
Attending college is a privilege
A college degree tells you one thing for certain: the person could afford college or was willing to assume the burden of student loan debt. A survey by the nonprofit Strada Education Foundation found that only about 1 in 3 adults now say a degree is worth the cost.
The average student borrows over $30,000 to pursue a bachelor’s degree in the U.S. This number has more than doubled since 2007 and the average payment is $250 per month. Almost 25% of federal student loan debt is held by borrowers who are over 50 years old, so it’s a lengthy debt commitment.
As discussions around student loans have swelled in recent years, I’ve found myself pondering what I would do if I were a newly graduated high school student in today’s world. My parents paid for my college: that’s a privilege. If I had to pay for it myself, would I do it?
I have an English degree. I’m also incredibly practical and would have weighed any perceived value of the degree versus entering the workforce immediately. I didn’t particularly like college or find it useful — I was ready to enter the working world and move on with my adult life. But college felt like something I “had” to do to “land a good job.” I’m not sure that’s true anymore.
Companies used to say, “We’re hiring the best and brightest!” as a justification for requiring a 4-year degree. But that’s not the case anymore as young adults hesitate to take on student loan debt or are more skeptical of college’s benefits.
Couple that with the recent Supreme Court decision to strike down President Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan, and it feels like student loans are a losing battle. The cost keeps going up and the benefits aren’t on a similar trajectory. It’s a mixed message of “College is important! But — not important enough for the government to ease the rising costs.”
The gap between who can afford college and who can’t widens… and it widens along socioeconomic lines.
Removing barriers from job applications
Any company that’s serious about diversity will drop the 4-year degree requirement from its job requirements if it’s not essential to the job function.
When I first pivoted to content marketing and journalism a few years ago, my college degree wasn’t a factor in getting hired. The companies were only looking for writing ability, based on my portfolio. Did I learn to write in college, as part of my English degree? I’d argue no: writing was a skill I already had and the type of writing I do for clients wasn’t sharpened by my 10-page essay on Pride and Prejudice.
In an interview with NPR, economist Byron Auguste said:
If you arbitrarily say that a job needs to have a bachelor’s degree, you are screening out over 70% of African-Americans. you’re screening out about 80% of Latino-Latina workers, and you’re screening out over 80% of rural Americans of all races. And you’re doing that before any skills are assessed. It’s not fair.
As for the job posting I saw that required eight years of experience in addition to a 4-year degree for a role that clearly was not dependent on a college education? I scoffed and didn’t share the link with my network. Because I have a low opinion of companies that have an education requirement: they clearly don’t value diversity.
I believe in the philosophical argument for higher education. I took courses in college that made me see the world differently (especially in my sociology classes). But we need to draw the distinction between what is gained in college and what is necessary for employment. They’re not the same thing.
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