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College Degree Required? How 1990s of You!

While today, workers with college degrees do earn more money than those without, things may shift and organizations may no longer enforce the education barrier they erected decades ago.

July 1, 2019
7.1.19 2019-06 blog-value-of-diploma

If you had the chance, would you hire a candidate as smart and driven as Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Ralph Lauren, Steve Jobs, or Abe Lincoln? Just curious because if your job posting said a college degree was required, that prerequisite would have discouraged them from even applying.

A few years ago, we looked at the commonly accepted premise that a college degree was necessary to get a well-paying job. Well, times they have been a-changin'. And that may be just what the doctorate ordered.

While today, workers with college degrees do earn more money than those without, things may shift and organizations may no longer enforce the education barrier they erected decades ago. The Baby Boomer generation, who were taught that one must earn a college degree to prosper, are now retiring without that gold watch they’d thought they’d get. Millennials who pursued a college education found themselves not only facing intense competition to be accepted into a top-rated college but, once they graduated, entered the workforce during a recession when jobs were scarce and competition was fierce. They faced the glum reality that, already saddled with more than $100,000 in college loan debt, the odds were that that great, high-paying job they’d worked toward was merely a mirage.

That “lesson” hasn’t been lost on the two billion young people worldwide now on the cusp of entering the workforce. Born between 1997 and 2010, Generation Z is only too familiar with the dearth of benefits for millennials who obtained standard or advanced degrees. A great many have stated they will completely forego secondary education. In fact, 75% of Generation Z say there are other ways of getting the education they need than going to college. The new generation doesn’t necessarily equate a degree with “success” and feels that more money doesn’t mean more happiness.

In fact, many of those entering the workforce are focusing on attaining future-proof jobs – gigs that probably won’t be exterminated by Artificial Intelligence (AI), such as:

• iOS developer • Computer vision engineer • Machine learning engineer • Audio engineer • Daycare assistant • Beauty consultant • Junior software engineer • Bridal consultant • Photojournalist • Bookseller • Anesthesiologist • Game master • Entry-level developer • Veterinary assistant • Associate dentist

While a number of these jobs demand college degrees, many won’t or will require certification attainable at a trade school.

Perhaps in days of yore, companies besieged with job candidates figured that those with college degrees were smarter and would therefore make better employees. So, sadly, “Education” became a popular place in a resume to fudge the truth. The New Norms @Work survey, which polled 15,075 full-time workers between 18 and 66 years of age in 19 countries revealed that 68% of respondents who completed some high school but didn’t earn a diploma admitted to lying on a resume.

John Challenger, chief executive of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a Chicago-based outplacement firm, says that not having a diploma is one of the things many applicants are most ashamed about. And that in itself is a shame. As mentioned above, the list of superheroes who didn’t graduate college is worthy of attention. The guys who founded Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook were all drop-outs. Ted Turner was expelled from Brown for having a girl in his dorm room. Ralph Lauren dropped out to serve in the US Army. President Lincoln quit school when he was 12. Few could fault these individuals who applied their drive and intelligence without a degree. And the likelihood is great that there are countless thousands of highly-qualified job candidates out there today who would make ideal employees even though they didn’t finish college. Why doesn’t a college degree equate to a more qualified candidate for many positions? According to Myths Of University Education by Antonio Centeno,

1. College Doesn’t Teach Students How to Think

While perhaps a bit cynical, students typically study the same book, listen to a professor lecture about their perspective on the material, then regurgitate what they’ve been taught on tests. That may make you more well-informed on a subject, but that’s about it. Critical thinking isn’t often involved. So unless a candidate has studied your organization’s specific field, they’re not necessarily going to be any more an expert than a non-college grad.

2. Student Loans Outweigh Benefits

At least in the U.S., higher education is not free. According to an annual survey of thousands of colleges by the College Board, two-thirds of students who earned a four-year degree in 2017 borrowed for college. Statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Education, as of Dec. 31, 2018, show:

• Average student loan debt: $33,654 • Total student loan debt: $1.45 trillion • Number of student loan borrowers: 43 million • Average student loan debt, graduate school: $84,300 • Average debt for recent law or medical school graduates: $186,600 • Percentage of all student loan debt held by those who owe $100,000 or more: 34.1%

The takeaway is that many very smart, hard-working, and capable candidates may not have been able to afford college and can’t even apply for jobs that require a degree. Or maybe they simply opted for an internship, traveled to gain a broader perspective, or pursued other activities until they discovered what they were truly passionate about and sought a career in a field that would engage that passion, and maybe even bring them satisfaction and “success.”

3. Information & Education Is Relatively Inexpensive

In a nutshell, you read from books in college. Why not read the material, the vast majority of which is available online inexpensively, and save yourself $150,000 on tuition? A lot of this information may include notes and narratives to answer questions you may have. Mr. Centeno suggests checking out Amazon’s Audible, which enables subscribers to learn from educational material via smartphone, smart speaker, or computer. There’s even a discount program specifically for students.

4. There Are No Guarantees

As the sad plight of millennials proved, getting a degree is no guarantee of getting a great job. The only certainty is that earning an advanced degree will entail significant debt.

As mentioned, Gen Z is taking a good hard look at this conundrum and many are opting for alternative education, travel, internships, military service, and other means to advance themselves which can mold themselves into your perfect candidate, even without that piece of parchment.

5. You Won’t Find Your Purpose There

College used to be the place where a student went to find the right career. Or a place to start anew, leaving far behind their (overweight, underweight, zit-infested, woefully unpopular) childhood identity. For those who could attend a school in a different city, it was a bright new world far, far away from the restrictive, punitive eyes of mom and dad, with promises of an unrestrictive and vigorous social universe. In the 70s, it was a temporary refuge for those who did not want to be drafted. It could be insular, a fun-filled cocoon protecting students from the cares of the stressful outside world.

In other words, a great place to learn read books, study subjects that may have little to do with what career they eventually choose, and make friends. While broadening and even fun, it does not necessarily prepare a student for earning a living in the real world.

Worse, students can not only be accepted into a prestigious school when their parents bribe their way in but, if they have the inclination and enough money, the college degree itself can be bought. Ads claiming, “Get a degree online!” are ubiquitous. The phony “schools” that offer a certificate for money are commonly referred to as “diploma mills” for the volume of fake degrees they churn out. For as little as $400, the customer gets the piece of paper without having to actually dedicate the time and effort for the education. The perpetrators loosely toss around terms including “licensing” and “accreditation” which are commonly misunderstood. Yet The United States has no federal requirement that a college be accredited by a recognized agency! And since most jobs today demand a college degree– particularly since a college education now costs a fortune – it’s not hard to understand how diploma mills and for-profit “universities” have flourished. Fortunately, as we’ve seen recently, the courts are scrutinizing these scams and issuing steep fines for such corruption.

In an era of remote education, it may be difficult to separate a legitimate educational institution from a fraud. The FTC offers a website that offers a wealth of information to help individuals recognize education scams at

How easy is it to get a diploma? As we wrote previously, a cat named Colby Nolan was awarded an executive MBA from a “university” in Plano, Texas. This so-called school awarded Colby the cat with an official-looking diploma including the signatures of the university’s President and Dean. Colby “earned” his degree with just a few clicks of, ironically, a mouse.

Organizations may wish to reconsider the value of requiring a college education for every position. While specialized education in fields such as finance, law, medicine, and many other disciplines legally require certification, many other positions may be a perfect fit for an individual who offers the drive, enthusiasm, exposure to, and practical experience in the role.

We leave you with Richard Branson, self-made billionaire and founder of the Virgin Group which operates 400 companies: “University isn’t the be-all and end-all, and it’s certainly not a prerequisite for business success. I never judge people by their education and qualifications. The first thing we look for at Virgin when hiring new staff is personality, which always wins over book smarts or job-specific skills; the latter can be learned. We also give a lot of weight to experience.”

Maybe you should, too.

Release Date: July 1, 2019

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