Employment: Loosening of four year degree requirement?

I read a thought-provoking article a few days ago, and I’ve been trying to find it ever since with no luck. But the essence of it was that there’s a trend to stop requiring job applicants to have four year degrees for so many positions. Employers were finding that experienced, non-degreed applicants did quite as well (if not better) than the degreed applicants. And that inexperienced applicants with a bit of on-point training also did very well. Obviously, the jobs discussed were not for CEOs, doctors, lawyers, or engineers.

Sometimes, out of curiosity, I’ll run a job search for the type of position I hold and I’m shocked to see that a four year degree is one of the requirements. You don’t need a degree to do what I do! Almost everything I need to know to do this job I learned outside of higher education. Expanding the search, I see that open positions for receptionists, admins, CAD drafters, etc. often list the four year degree requirement. Nertz to that.

I say this is a good trend.

I think it really depends on the degree and the position. Most of the ones you mentioned are ones that at least early in my career (1990s), weren’t four year degree positions anyway. Receptionists and admins didn’t have a college requirement, and CAD drafters, at least in the civil engineering world, needed some sort of credential, usually along the lines of an associate’s degree showing that they understood drafting and a CAD program, but didn’t need a degree. (what was the point- the engineers did that stuff anyway?)

I keep hearing that we should do away with them for other positions like computer programmer. I’m of mixed opinions about that. On one hand, it’s entirely possible for someone to be an auto-didact and learn how to code, and be very good at it without formal schooling. But on the other hand, there’s a LOT of value in the traditional computer science curriculum when it comes to doing anything other than just assembly-line, lowest-level code writing. Knowing how various data structures work, how various algorithms work, how to determine which algorithm to use, how to analyze your algorithm for speed, knowing how databases work conceptually, how to normalize a database, etc… are all critically important design level stuff. It’s conceptually similar to the divide between a civil engineer and a CAD tech, or between an automotive engineer and a mechanic. Or even I suppose, between an actual accountant and a bookkeeper.

My guess is that at some point, employers were inundated with applicants with degrees for these positions, and realized that it wasn’t a fluke, and started using it as an easy first-pass filter for applicants. They probably realized at some point that at least for those positions, using it as a filter didn’t show useful results in terms of better quality workers, and that they came with their own set of issues.

I suspect that part of it, unfortunately, is that few degreed people are going to be satisfied with the admin assistant career path, and probably were pushing to go on to bigger and better things, rather than just being an admin and shutting up about it. For whatever reason, companies don’t like people getting out of their lanes like that. By putting non-degreed people in a lot of those positions, there’s a ready-made barrier to entry from those positions to other positions in the company- namely a 4 year degree.

I was very lucky to end up in a field where a degree was irrelevant (advertising). I got my first job at a big firm just by showing some freelance work I’d done for friends, and eventually (ok, a decade later) was running a creative department.

Part of my job was interviewing and hiring. And I loved listening to people detailing the minutiae of their academic achievements, then I’d get to say “Great, but all we care about here is what you can DO. Let’s look at your portfolio and you can tell me stories about the projects… and fun client stories.”

We had a commercial producer and a couple of designers with two-year Associate’s degrees (from a great tech school that taught the practical stuff), on the other hand we hired a writer with a PhD (which he admitted was useless until someone asked about Ancient Irish Lit).

In our field, occasionally there’d be a big firm who’d advertise a position and ask for a 4-year degree… just to keep the stacks of resumes to a manageable pile. (We’d get hundreds… nothing brings out odd types like an ad with “Creative” in it).

But either they realized they were missing out on good people, or those stacks of CVs have dwindled; I’m hardly seeing any “Bachelor’s Degree Required” ads these days.

A bachelors degree requirement, isn’t necessarily an indication of the technical skills required to do the job, although it may help. Obtaining a bachelor degree demonstrates that the individual did the work to complete the degree requirements which is an indication of their work ethic, ability to learn, etc.

Many certified/licensed professions, e.g. accountants, financial planners, medical professions, engineers, etc. will require a degree of some sort along with passing a certification test, before the state will license them.

I don’t seeing any of that changing.

The rise of internships has left some employers wishing they didn’t have to give up good employees in order for them to finish their degrees. It shouldn’t be surprising, they aren’t going to do anything else in school that will make them better at their jobs. It’s not like they went to school for general education benefit and to become a well rounded person, they went to school to get a good job and really aren’t interested in any formal activities of college not related to that, and neither are the employers.

My gf was very lucky. She got a minimum wage job as a go-for at an advertising agency fresh out of high school. Today, 44 years later, she is a VP at an ad agency and is well known in the ad world.

I can’t believe that everyone who is in college is only there for a job right after graduation. And, the limited time frame of an internship means that while the employee may be good at whatever they get to be trained on, it’s often not something they’ll want to do post graduation.

No, they didn’t all go to school just to get a job, and not every internship uncovers great talent or provides a career the intern wants. But it does happen more and more, I just didn’t feel like throwing a ton of qualifiers into my post. Do you believe it is some kind of rarity for college students to be primarily motivated by future employment success? Do you think students don’t seek out random internships unrelated to their future plans? There is no one ‘thing’ that describes the motivations and actions of college students, but what I mentioned is quite common, and growing.

I imagine it depends on the degree. I’m about to graduate with a BS in civil engineering and the majority of my classmates intend to enter the industry immediately. Many of them (myself included) already have jobs lined up. A smaller amount will go to a masters program, because some entry-level positions in civil engineering require at least that much. The general education requirements are just barely tolerated by most of my classmates… they would’ve skipped them all if allowed to.

The CE degree program here is certainly pushing students into industry, too. You’re expected to complete at least one Summer internship. Many internships lead directly to full-time job offers. The program hosts weekly visits from various companies which ostensibly talk about the work they do but most of them are just openly recruiting.

I can imagine that in other degree programs the push to get a job is not nearly so strong and students pursue a much wider diversity of paths after graduation.

I can definitely see a difference between someone who’s an engineering major, which is very likely to end up with the student going into engineering as a job and a liberal arts/business major who doesn’t have as clearly defined career path ahead of them.

To get back to the main gist of the thread, yes, I definitely think that requiring 4 year degrees for a lot of jobs is silly and it’s mostly done to keep the number of applications down. For many C students in high school that aren’t particularly academically motivated, it’s a waste of everyone’s time and money to have them slog away at a 3rd tier directional state school just to get a 4 year degree

Do you have a cite for this. I have a cite for the reverse:

Here is one paragraph:

[A]cademia doesn’t teach programmers what they actually need to know to do their jobs: how to work in a team to create code that works reliably and can be maintained by somebody other than the original authors. As the size and complexity of commercial software have grown, the gap between academic computer science and industry has widened. It’s an open secret that there is little engineering in software engineering, which continues to rely not on codified scientific knowledge but on intuition and experience.

The author is a self-taught programmer who also has a degree in CS and worked for nearly 25 years as a programmer so his opinion on the subject is relevant.

There’s a difference between the science of computing and software engineering.

Not so many students (or employers or even this author to an extent) really understand the distinction and lump it all into “computer science” as though it’s just all the same thing.

Software engineering as an engineering discipline distinct from the more theory heavy stuff can be taught or studied but often isn’t.

Just as an electrical engineering degree can mean very different things - power distribution, or microchip design, or antenna design, or cellular networks, or digital signal processing, treating ‘computer science’ as a single discipline with a single goal like developing large software systems is a mistake.

Ask industry experts, and they’ll want a glorified jobs training program in their particular field with their preferred tools, but that’s not always the best thing for an academic department to pursue.

Nobody expects engineering students to come out of college ready to be a certified Professional Engineer. It requires additional post-college training, testing, and what amounts to an apprenticeship to get there. I don’t see why software engineering should be so much easier it doesn’t require something similar to get to a high performance level.

I think I have related this in the past, back around 1980 I applied for a job from a company in New York. I filled out an application and left a resume and got a call back where they told me flat out it didn’t matter how qualified I was, they wouldn’t hire me because I did not have a college degree. They weren’t apologetic about it or anything, they didn’t act like the policy was a relic they didn’t want to be limited by, whoever I talked to was quite clear that without a degree I wasn’t good enough for them.

Jump ahead only about 7 years, I had my own company, and had developed tools and skills desperately needed by this company because they were hamstrung by old technology with no path forward. Someone had recommended they contact me to help them out. They would have had to hire me as a contractor, but I asked about their college degree policy and explained that they didn’t want me just a few years earlier. The guy I was talking to sheepishly admitted they still maintained the policy and it was stupid, but it wouldn’t apply to me as a contractor. I told them I wasn’t interested. Was I being a jerk? Maybe, still don’t care. Had I really needed the work I probably would have done it. And it was bad business also, that company wasn’t around much longer, I should have taken their money, I might have saved them. at least gave their legacy system some value. But I didn’t, and it doesn’t bother me. I rarely hold a grudge for long but I was really bothered by that original encounter, something about that time and place stuck with me. I was likely the most qualified candidate they could find for the job they were advertising for and they couldn’t even bother to talk to me.

Before I met him, my husband was in community college to learn drafting and engineering. This was in the mid-1970s. A local engineering company sent a recruiting person on campus, and he spoke to students and said that his company would complete their training while paying the students. My husband took them up on their offer and received top-notch on the job training.

He’s a natural when it comes to this type of work, and can draft circles around just about anyone else. He also took to computer drafting as soon as it was introduced, and was one of the best in this discipline (and still is). But he didn’t get that early two-year degree and it has hampered him all his working life. He didn’t foresee that future companies would start requiring four year degrees in his field.

Thank goodness his current employer (blessed be thy name, Silicon Valley mega-corporation) ignored the degree question and looked only at his work history. He has been with them five years and gets stellar reviews and praise.

In my field a 4 year degree doesn’t mean much as far as ability. The academic aspect is so far removed from the actual on-ground work that a graduate with a BS may not even know the basics. The universities have shifted away from having instructors with technical backgrounds to preferring publishers of minutia. Maybe that’s all that doctoral programs are pumping out these days.

The problem is that the federal government still needs a BS for their professional level positions and they are a big employer in my field. It forces students to spend more money, on a worse education, to fill a job they won’t be prepared for.

Although, for some jobs, those “C students in high school that aren’t particularly academically motivated” are precisely the ones they’re trying to weed out by requiring a college degree.

For my company, most of the positions we have available will call for a degree or X years of experience in lieu of a degree. For some positions a degree isn’t optional, you’re not going to be hired as an accountant without a degree in finance, business, accounting, or something similar, but a lot of our positions don’t require a degree.

Most of our programming positions don’t require a degree so long as the candidate has X years of experience. Which is odd, because from a practical point of view, the hiring managers in IT aren’t typically interested in candidates without degrees.

While I can’t say a degree is completely irrelevant in my field, HR, it certainly isn’t absolutely necessary. When hiring for many HR positions, we tend to care more about experience than whether or not someone has a degree. This can prove frustrating for young graduates trying to enter the field. I’d rather hire a recruiter with 5 years of experience than a fresh graduate with no experience.

Yep, couldn’t have said that better myself.

Part of the problem is that universities don’t always split it very far apart either; when I was in college, if you were to attend any of our computer science courses, you’d have found about an even mix of computer science majors and computer engineering majors, with a handful of digital design electrical engineering students as well. There was precious little difference between the computer science and computer engineering degrees- slightly more math, slightly more electrical engineering on the part of the CE types was about it. But nearly all of us were lumped in together for jobs when we graduated, based on the career center’s job listings.

What I’m talking about is the fact that you can go take a handful of community college courses in programming and be a “programmer”, but it doesn’t give you the breadth you really need- you don’t know what order notation is, you don’t know what a b-tree is, or what the banker’s algorithm is, for example.

Experienced and good programmers will learn that stuff, either explicitly, or intuitively, but when you’re hiring entry-level, the four year degree people will have a leg up in terms of that sort of thing, while having the exact same programming training.

In 1982 no degree or credits were required to get into law enforcement. I was already employed in the field when I went to college to get the first of my 3 degrees (an Associate in Police Science). I was bored to tears as far as the academics was concerned. What took them 2 years to teach took 8 lousy weeks in the academy. The same holds true today but a lot of agencies are requiring college degrees which is dumb. There are aptitudes and experiences that far outweigh college degrees.

One of my sons spent 2 semesters at UWM and decided college was not for him. Today he is a VP for a distribution company and makes well over 6 figures.

There are some fields where what you learn in college is essential. There are other fields where what you learn in college is difficult precisely in order to challenge the student to show that they are capable of tackling difficult material and working their way through a long project (graduating from college) but nothing that’s learned there is of much help in the workforce. It’s certainly possible that there are people who are not going to be successful in college, but still have the ability to succeed in the workplace. It’s too hard for employers to determine who those people will be compared to just hiring people who are college graduates.