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Are degree requirements dwindling?

Hello! This week’s issue looks at how much of a shift is happening with degree requirements in hiring, a new career mentor network for college students, deferred tuition for an MBA, and the latest on community college enrollments. (Sign up here to get this newsletter.)


Disappearing Degree Requirements

A growing number of businesses appear to be dropping degree requirements in hiring.

The potential shift comes as Byron Auguste, CEO of Opportunity@Work, and others argue that privileging job applicants with four-year degrees excludes millions of Americans from the middle class, and that this form of discrimination in particular hurts people of color.

At the same time, the college degree is receiving scrutiny for contributing to the racial wealth gap, due to labor market returns that are skewed against Black and Latino college graduates. 

Yet examples of companies actually rolling back degree requirements remain spotty, PRish, and concentrated among tech giants like IBM and Google. Bottom line: if you want to make big bucks working for Apple, Stanford or MIT are still your best bets.

New data from ZipRecruiter, however, suggested a potentially tectonic shift, one that could trigger a cascade of changes across higher education and society more broadly. The AP reported earlier this month that the percentage of jobs on the platform that required a bachelor’s degree fell to just 7 percent in June, having stood at 11 percent in January. The decline followed a drop from 15 percent in 2016.

Several pandemic-related effects could be skewing the ZipRecruiter numbers, as astute observers noted. For example, unprecedented job market churn for jobs that don’t require degrees could overstate actual changes in hiring. 

Lilah Burke, a veteran of Inside Higher Ed, dug into this phenomenon for Work Shift. She cites Elise Gould, a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, who says lower-wage workers have been disproportionately hurt by the recession, particularly in leisure and hospitality.

“You’re going to see an uptick in job postings that don’t require a college degree simply because that is where the deficits lie,” Gould says.

Even so, a shift does appear to be occurring. Emsi Burning Glass was able to control for the hiring chaos in roles that typically don’t require a degree. The labor market data firm found a four-percentage-point decline this year in job listings with bachelor’s degree requirements.

The stakes are high. As Burke reported, 68 percent of U.S. adults lack a bachelor’s degree. That share is much higher for Black Americans (78 percent) and Latinos (84 percent). But a souring of public opinion on the degree could help motivate more Americans to skip college despite the sustained economic value of the bachelor’s degree, which is the best way to reach the middle class and to ride out economic disruptions.

So will it last? And will HR departments make good on hiring more workers without degrees?

Credentialism is a tide that will likely not be turned, Anthony Carnevale, executive director of the Georgetown University Center for Education and the Workforce, tells Burke. He says dropping degree requirements typically adds costs to searches and can increase the risk of hires not working out.

“The reason they use credentials is it works,” said Carnevale.

Get the full take -- "Employers are loosening degree requirements. But will it last?" -- over at Work Shift.
Get the full take — “Employers are loosening degree requirements. But will it last?” — over at Work Shift.workshift.opencampusmedia.org

Unworkable Jobs

Questions about credentialism have had a low profile amid big-ticket debates about free college, student debt, and workforce development. And experts note that shifts in hiring and skills training won’t help much if they lead to dead-end jobs.

“Simply put, there are far more workers who need reliable and sufficient income than there are available jobs that offer them,” three fellows for the Good Jobs Institute wrote in a recent essay.

Recent news about a crisis in the early-childcare industry reinforces this argument. And the U.S. Department of the Treasury sounded the alarm this month with a report concluding that the current system is unworkable.

Fully 95 percent of early-childhood educators are women, the report said, and more than one-third are people of color. Likewise, 87 percent of daycare center–based workers who serve young children have at least some college education. Yet the average annual pay for childcare workers is $24,230, which puts them in the bottom 2 percent of earnings and below the poverty line in most states. Perhaps not surprisingly, an estimated 26 to 40 percent of childcare workers leave their jobs each year.

The turnover appears to be worsening, Heather Long of The Washington Post reported this week. The industry is down 126,700 positions as many workers leave for higher-paying positions in other sectors—a 10 percent decline from pre-pandemic levels. A recent survey found that 80 percent of respondents from the industry are experiencing staffing shortages.

Tanzie Roberts told WaPo that she quit her job at a Florida daycare center in June. She now earns $15 an hour, with health insurance, in an administrative role for a tech company, an upgrade from the $11.45 an hour she’d been making.

The Kicker: 

“The pay is absolute crap for what’s required for the position,” Roberts said. “I can’t afford to live on my own and work the child-care jobs that I am qualified for.”

From Work Shift

Community college enrollment is looking flat
Community college enrollment is looking flatworkshift.opencampusmedia.org

With a number of states—Colorado, Michigan, and Mississippi—reporting fall enrollment, the general trend appears flat. That’s in line with what AACC is hearing, and it raises questions about whether the country will actually see a surge in workforce training.

Career Mentors

A group of 19 colleges and universities has teamed up with Strive for College to offer free virtual career mentoring to students from low-income backgrounds.

The nonprofit Strive for College matches high school students with mentors through its UStrive online tool. Its goal is to help students with financial need navigate the college and aid application processes. Strive for College has seen a huge spike in demand since the pandemic began, with six times the user engagement.

Now the group is expanding into career exploration. The newly announced coalition includes institutions ranging from Spokane Falls Community College to Texas State and Stanford Universities. Participating students will be paired one on one with mentors from nine major employers that have signed on to the project, including American Express, Deloitte, and UPS. And that relationship can stretch from when students apply for college to their move into the professional world.

“The more employers we serve, the more volunteers we have on the platform—which makes the model extremely scalable,” says Michael J. Carter, the founder and CEO of Strive for College.

The project seeks to help students develop relationships with working professionals as they search for jobs. Participating employers also reserve internship slots for the students. Carter says American Express kicked off the initiative this summer—any student on the platform was able to apply, and the company accepted 80 percent of the Strive applicants.

“Our hypothesis is that students who are highly engaged on our platform are going to show the same initiative, persistence, and grit on the job,” says Carter, “so we conducted an initial vetting of the applicants, providing information about the level of each applicant’s engagement to AmEx.”

The company went beyond its roughly 64,000 employees in seeking mentors, opening up the program to millions of Americans who hold a U.S. consumer card. So if you have an AmEx card and want to help a lower-income college student navigate their job hunt, log into your account, scroll down, and look for the link or just call the number on your card.

Amgen, one of the world’s largest biotech companies, is a participating employer. Eduardo Cetlin, president of the Amgen Foundation, says the mentoring platform helps the company advance its social impact, cultivate the next generation of leaders, and engage workers outside of their day jobs.

Buy Now, Pay Later

The Job recently published an update on the iMBA from the Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The online degree program, which is on Coursera’s platform, features a low total tuition price of $22,500 and a relatively wide admissions funnel.

Few institutions have followed the iMBA’s lead. But the University of California, Davis, this week announced a novel way for students to pay for the online MBA from its Graduate School of Management. The MBA@UCDavis, which the university offers with 2U, in January will begin offering deferred tuition without interest. EdAid, which offers deferred tuition options, will help administer the program.

Eligible students will pay tuition for the first half of the program, which has a total price of $105,000, then be able to defer payments for the second half. To cover the deferred fees, students will owe 10 percent of their annual gross income in monthly payments after they graduate or withdraw. 

The deferred tuition option will help expand access to the degree, says H. Rao Unnava, dean of the UC Davis Graduate School of Management. The UC system endorsed the approach, which could spread to other programs if successful.

Cash-flow challenges have prevented students from pursuing the MBA, Unnava says. And the university hopes widened student access will help cover some of the revenue it loses due to inflation.

“UC Davis likes to educate as many people as we can,” says Unnava.

Deferring tuition payments will help keep total direct costs low, making the degree more affordable than the typical MBA, says Carlo Salerno, vice president for research at CampusLogic and a former official at the U.S. Department of Education.

“That said, people will almost assuredly pay the first installment with loans still, which means they’ll likely just end up with two bills at graduation,” he says. “Also, as long as cost of attendance lets students borrow for living expenses, people are going to walk away with fairly large amounts of student loan debt.”

Open Tabs

Community Colleges

Shasta College last year successfully re-enrolled 43 students who were near completion when they stopped out, 16 of whom completed a degree, according to a case study from the Institute for Higher Education Policy. Shasta is one of roughly 200 institutions participating in Degrees When Due, an IHEP-led completion and equity project.

Community colleges can tap several federal funding streams to create paid work-and-learn opportunities for their students, according to New America, including the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund and the Federal Work-Study program. The group also proposed policy changes to help expand access to these federal funds. 

Tech Skills

Colleges typically do not teach cloud computing, and getting a professional cloud certification can help college grads break into the workforce, said Madhuri Jakkaraju, a senior manager and software engineer at Capital One, in an article from the company on the value of IT certs.

The Cognizant Foundation announced $5.5 million in grants for 13 organizations that work on tech skills for historically excluded populations. Braven and Road to Hire are among the locally focused grant recipient groups that seek to expand access to industry-relevant education, technical skills training, and social capital.

Employer Training

Companies that fall behind in offering career growth and learning opportunities to their employees risk losing their workforce to competitors, Sachin Gupta, co-founder and CEO of HackerEarth, wrote in an essay for Fast Company. It costs more to recruit a midcareer software engineer than to train an internal candidate, he said, and learning and retraining opportunities can encourage employees to stay with a company.

Career Outcomes

Graduates of selective colleges only see an earnings premium relative to their peers for a few years after college, according to a new working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The study, which tapped data from Texas, also found that colleges that boost bachelor’s degree completion rates, particularly in STEM majors, tend to boost earnings among their graduates.

Roughly a quarter of college undergrads say they’ve changed their postgraduation plans or goals, according to the results of the latest Student Voice survey from Inside Higher Ed and College Pulse. The vast majority of respondents said they were worried about finding a job, and about a third said they would have participated in more career service activities if they had been held in person.

New Job

JFF is hiring a managing director of postsecondary market solutions. The new role will focus on redesigning education and workforce systems to better serve workers and learners, including through nontraditional education and training providers.

Thoughts about this issue? Hit me up. —PF @paulfain

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