Should Employers Still Require College Degrees?

Recently, Wall Street Journal has published an article and the title explains it all: Some CEOs Suggest Dropping Degree Requirements in Hiring.

This is a realistic perspective we are looking at since many college graduates are coming out with a degree and no job, while employers are having a hard time filling certain entry-level positions as well as higher-level positions due to unrealistic job descriptions that make it a competitive job market for many.

Should degrees be immaterial? Because the focus should be on hiring the right person. In many cases, degrees are seen as a petty economic development scheme and that is the belief on how much talent gets passed up. There is a saying in the HR world, “I can teach you the treasury and payments pieces you need. The things I’m looking for are not taught in school.” However, many HR staff nowadays are not qualified to sift through applicants to find the right candidate, but only the right keywords. This calls for a need to change the practices and lower the keyword bar to allow more applicants to be seen.

This trend doesn’t apply to all fields however, since for instance, the tech world’s insatiable demand for tech workers and coders. Tech giants like Amazon has never required a degree for line workers in their distribution centers. There will always be the discussion of providing skill training or education in colleges and career preparatory schools.
Also, for STEM field. Will corporations train workers only on the niche requirements of the job?

Here is something to consider, if CEOs and hiring managers were to drop degree requirements — this will require manager conditioning since they link it to the likeliness of the success of an individual in a particular role. Many individuals have graduated with a degree but have never directly worked in their field of study as long as they have the applied skills and meet their requirements/qualifications, which questions the relevance of a degree.


Here is how others have been responding to this topic and this resonates with a lot of employers and job seekers.

  1. “College degrees have long been used to screen in and screen out prospective employees. Diversity issues aside, removing the requirement theoretically would certainly open up the talent pool for candidates. For employers, not requiring a degree would address the labor shortage across industries.

    On the flip side, people with degrees have also found it challenging to get hired. In reality, people even with the right skills and experiences have challenges finding employment which goes beyond the degree/no degree topic.

    The real problem is that employers have done themselves and workers a huge disservice with unrealistic job descriptions and hiring practices. Much of this has been done to combine multiple roles into as few as possible, while others have wage levels that hinder recruitment. Then on top of that, the business of hiring has gradually lost the human touch with an over-reliance on automated screening tools. Unless you use the right words, phrases or even the right font, you’re screened out.

    While degree/no degree is an interesting issue, the change needs to go deeper into hiring practices.”
  2. “I’ve been gainfully employed for over 25 years without a 4 year degree, until this strange time of Covid. I’ve never experienced the challenges this time is seeing with the automation, key word and degree requirements which have made job searching a heart wrenchingly difficult experience with very little ability to by-pass the ‘Black-Hole’ that these systems have created, despite having a Master’s Degree level of hands on experience. It is a huge dis-service to organizations needing to full positions and the economy.”
  3. “An ‘overhaul’ of recruitment/hiring practices is very much needed, as in this area new technologies have made it impossible for anyone to show their worth. Algorithms are destroying job prospects and careers before they’re even started. We are reduced to key words and phrases instead of people.”
  4. “When I was looking for a role I quickly realized that some major corporations have outsourced their recruiting to the lowest bidder, which doesn’t always produce the best outcomes.

    Then there is the infamous ATS. It was disheartening to know that human eyes weren’t reviewing my resume, now the algorithm decides whether I would make it to the next round based on the number of times the exact keyword shows up in my CV.

    I feel that some companies use frightening job duties and requirements to thin the applicant pool. I have abandoned applications due to the 30 bullet points on roles and responsibilities that didn’t sync with the salary and I didn’t want to work 14 hours a day.

    Dropping degree requirements and training people for career progression on the job is a great start, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg.”
  5. “I feel there are too many ‘requirements’ on most job postings today; even if you do have a degree it may be in a different major, or if you have experience it’s not enough experience, etc.
    Many job postings intimidate potential applicants, not to mention force marginalized people to attend for profit schools (VERY expensive vs. state schools), while accumulating massive debt because they are easier and faster to get into than a private or state school where you need transcripts, essays, recommendations, etc.
    Most working adults don’t have the time or resources to even start the process, not the mention the ability to take classes in person (state/private were late in offering virtual learning programs.”
  6. “The arbitrary rules regarding college requirements for most of the entry-level positions created by outdated systems that no longer reflect our society hasn’t made sense for quite some time. In addition to these requirements, we often ask for candidates to have 2-3 years in experience that many wouldn’t have. It’s truly hard to address the gap in opportunity if some of the world’s most prominent employers aren’t rethinking their stance.”
  7. “Can’t wait for them to drop the ‘mandatory required’ 3-5 years of prior experience at appear in most entry level positions. A real barrier to entry is not the degree, it’s the ‘requirements’ that are out of step with the duties of the position and are used as a way to acquire skilled labor without training or workforce development investment.”
  8. “Having a degree doesn’t make you more intelligent than someone without. Many people moving up in a company gain valuable experience but at some point can reach the glass ceiling of ‘degree’.
    There seems to be many glass ceilings a company can implement to create the illusion of talent but in effect it is exclusivity.
    A degree doesn’t make you a harder worker, more dedicated worker, a worker that has the innate capability to solve problems or even the desire to take on challenges and find solutions.
    A degree is just a piece of paper to create a hurdle to jump over or a way to narrow the interview process and candidates.
    Many people without degrees start their own company doing work they were not allowed to get compensated for from a corporation.”
  9. “To me we wouldn’t be having this conversation if the cost of higher education was controlled, because I think we can all agree that more education is better than less. I don’t think the answer is necessarily don’t require degrees, but rather create opportunities for people to get them more affordably and maybe even faster. It can be done if we all believe in it. Free community college. Low interest rates on federal loans. Innovative fast track programs. And probably many other things that I cannot think of right now.”
  10. “I see this as a double edged sword. For many places it is simply gatekeeping as a barrier to entry since I have always assumed that the reason for requiring a bachelor’s degree of a candidate was some sort of proof that you can accomplish a task. On the flip side of the coin I have a master’s degree in Organizational Leadership. There are many jobs that are asking people to have a master’s degree and then only wanting to pay $15 an hour.”
  11. “In some ways, the college degree has historically functioned as a screening device in the workplace rather than a realistic determinant of a job candidate’s ability. Dropping the requirement for a college degree for certain jobs makes sense, and could broaden opportunities considerably for job entrants. However, our primary educators must get the job done. They need to prepare their young students with the foundational skills needed to adapt to the demands of career.”
  12. “What do you look for in an individual? Can you coach ‘passion’? Can you learn ‘work ethic’ from having a 4 year degree? What is the future benchmark for a highly successful hire?”
  13. “Some of the smartest, most capable people I’ve known in my career didn’t have a degree. Clearly it matters in many instances, but certainly not at all. Attitude can’t be taught but in many cases aptitude can be.”
  14. “This would place the responsibility of preparing students, for the workforce, back on high schools. I’m all for that but it is going to require a reegineering of our public school systems. I teach at the undergraduate level and I feel many times that I am doing what should have been done in high school. Also, will these same CEOs make a commitment to entry level talent development programs to ensure employee retention and growth? It is time to look at higher education and job placement in a total systems approach, not as silos.”
  15. “Although the sentiment is dead-on, I would urge organizations to consider whether or not the job(s) in question is/are the starting point for a career progression that indeed does necessitate such a requirement (e.g. Bachelor’s, Master’s, etc.). If an organization hires an employee lacking in the future requirements at the time of hire, what strategies are in place to ensure that the employee(s) are qualified for the higher roles when the time comes. Corporate educational assistance budgets appear to have taken a hit — if not nonexistent — but can play an important role in succession planning. Education isn’t always the panacea it’s made out to be, but lack of education can also be of equal importance.”

With companies having their own operating systems, that are for the most part different from the degree, the path forward is that they should teach what they are doing with far greater success than the other.

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