Recently, the Governor of Pennsylvania signed an Executive Order removing four year degree requirements for numerous state jobs. Some people saw this as part of a larger trend in this country of emphasizing skills over degrees in hiring. Unfortunately, someone I know lambasted the decision on social media, claiming that this decision devalues higher education and makes people who went to college regret it. She also reiterated the familiar refrain about the intrinsic value of education and the need to make higher education more affordable for everyone. Out of respect for this person I did not publicly comment on her post. I was, however, baffled by her response.
I have always believed college degrees are nice to have but not always necessary. That doesn’t mean that I don’t believe anyone should go to college or that college shouldn’t be more affordable. I just think college isn’t necessarily for everyone, and that employers frequently overlook qualified candidates with alternative career paths. I’ve met a lot of really smart people who are self-taught in a field. I see the elimination of minimum degree requirements for jobs as the validation of a person’s skills and experience, not a slight to those who have formal education.
Part of the problem with the debate over minimum degree requirements is that the two sides seem to be operating with different definitions of the word “requirement”. To me, if a job requires a certain degree that means people who don’t have that degree will not be considered for the job. I have never worked in Human Resources nor been in charge of hiring an employee, so my understanding of this situation is entirely as an applicant who has applied for and been denied many jobs with no explanation as to why. Maybe I got eliminated from the applicant pool because the organization I applied for used a software program that screened applicants out based on degrees. Maybe not. All I know is that when I apply for a job I actually read the qualifications listed and I don’t bother applying for jobs if I don’t meet the requirements. I understand that not everyone is like that. Some people just apply to any job they think sounds interesting, and other people read the job requirements but assume that those “requirements” are really just a wishlist. To me, a requirement is mandatory and a preference is optional. If anyone reading this post is involved in the hiring process, I ask you that you be careful with the words you use in your job ads. You might be missing out on some great candidates.
Most people when they defend minimum degree requirements talk about how much their education helped them in their career. That’s lovely, but everyone did not have that experience. I’ve met too many people who went to college believing their degree and skills were enough to get them a job only to end up in a job completely unrelated to their education. Advocates of higher education will usually counter this argument by saying college shouldn’t be about vocational training but self-improvement and learning in general. If you believe that, then why would you be opposed to making college optional instead of mandatory for entry into a particular line of work? If anything devalues college degrees it is making them a minimum requirement that everyone has to complete to gain entry into a specific field. If you want to make higher education a meaningful experience then it shouldn’t be treated as a hazing ritual that people must perform to gain access to an elite group. People should go to college because they actually want to be there, not because they are trying to impress strangers.
Notes Between Us (NBU) is a blog about conversations and topics of interest to the writers. The writers are expressing their personal opinions solely. The essays represent their personal beliefs and not that of their workplaces or any organization they are associated with.