Four-Year College Degree Requirements in Hiring Are Slowly Easing

As a middle school student in New York, Shekinah Griffith saw a television report about President Barack Obama attending an innovative school in Brooklyn. The program included high school, an associate’s degree in a technical subject, an internship, and the prospect of a good job.

“I thought, ‘This is a place I need to be,'” Ms. Griffith recalled. “There are no such opportunities for people like me.”

She applied, was accepted and was successful in the courses. After school, an internship and 18 months of training, she became a full-time employee at IBM at the end of 2020. Today, Ms. Griffith, 21, is a cybersecurity technical specialist and earns more than $100,000 a year.

In recent years, major American companies across all industries have committed to changing their hiring habits, opening the door to higher-paying jobs with career paths for people without a four-year college degree like Ms. Griffith. More than 100 companies have signed up, including those on the Business Roundtable Multiple Pathways Program and OneTen, which focuses on hiring black workers with no college degrees and promoting them to good jobs.

How has Corporate America fared so far? Overall, there has been a gradual shift a recent report and additional data provided by the Institute for burning glass. However, the research group’s company-specific analysis underscores both the potential and the challenge of changing entrenched hiring practices.

The Burning Glass Institute is an independent, non-profit research center using data from Emsi Burning Glass, a labor market analysis company. Researchers analyzed millions of online job listings, looking for requirements and trends for a four-year college degree. In 2017, 51 percent required the degree. By 2021, that proportion had dropped to 44 percent.

Labor experts see removing the four-year college degree filter for some jobs as key to increasing diversity and reducing inequality. Workers, they say, should be selected and promoted based on their skills and experience, not degrees or educational background. And companies that change their hiring practices are benefiting, they add, from unlocking previously overlooked talent pools in a tight labor market and from diversifying their workforce.

Almost two-thirds of American workers do not have a four-year college degree. Post-graduation screening hits minorities particularly hard, eliminating 76 percent of black adults and 83 percent of adult Latinos.

Companies that have scaled back degree requirements typically started before the pandemic, according to Burning Glass analysis. Nonprofit groups like chance@workfounded in 2015, and the Skillful by the Markle Foundation The program, which started in 2016, encouraged companies to introduce a skills-based attitude.

But the pandemic labor crisis and calls for American companies to address racial discrimination following the murder of George Floyd two years ago prompted more companies to reconsider hiring. An aging workforce, shifting demographics, immigration restrictions, and diversity, equity and inclusion programs are forcing change, experts say.

“Things are coming together that we really haven’t seen before,” said Joseph Fuller, a Harvard Business School professor and co-author of the Burning Glass report, published in February.

The Burning Glass research underscores a “real and ongoing trend,” said Johnny C. Taylor Jr., chief executive of the Personnel management company. “Employers don’t have the luxury of excluding talent. They must necessarily be broader.”

While mentioning “college degree” in a job posting is not actual hiring, labor force experts say it is an important signal of how companies are hiring.

“For diversity goals, the biggest lever you can pull is to get rid of the four-year graduation filter,” said Elyse Rosenblum, managing director of degree of lifeadvises the company on inclusive recruitment processes.

There are judgments in Burning Glass research. For example, companies may state that a bachelor’s degree or comparable practical experience is required for a position. Still, such wording suggests a bias toward college degrees, the researchers concluded.

A detailed analysis of companies in the same industry revealed significant differences in the degree requirements for entry-level jobs, which typically serve as stepping stones to higher-paying positions and career paths with upward mobility. Some are technical jobs, such as B. Computer Support Specialist, Software Developer and Software Quality Assurance Engineer.

Successful training programs for the disadvantaged, such as year upwards and By Scholashave focused on tech jobs as demand is strong and skills can be demonstrated through coding tests or industry-recognized certificates.

Getting the college degree for jobs takes work. The skills required for a job need to be explained more clearly and hiring managers need to be trained. Institutional habits, experts note, are ingrained. Companies instinctively look not just for college graduates, but for graduates from a handful of preferred colleges.

“This is still a corporate-level melee,” said Matt Sigelman, president of the Burning Glass Institute and co-author of the report.

According to the company’s data, some employers who have championed skills-based hiring and generously supported upward mobility programs still generally have high requirements for a four-year degree in their hiring.

For example, Microsoft is a major financial supporter of Markle’s Skillful program and a member of the Rework America Business Network, a group of companies committed to a skills-based hiring. Microsoft and its LinkedIn subsidiary offered free online courses to millions of people during the pandemic.

But in the Burning Glass analysis, Microsoft required a degree for 54 percent of its computer support job postings, compared to a national average of 24 percent. For software quality assurance jobs, 87 percent required a college degree versus a national average of 54 percent. According to Burning Glass, by 2021 Microsoft will require a college degree for 70 percent of all job postings.

Lauren Gardner, vice president of global talent acquisition at Microsoft, declined to comment on Burning Glass’ analysis other than saying that many of the company’s listings indicate a college degree or equivalent experience.

“We are shifting to skills that candidates possess versus how they acquired them,” Ms. Gardner said. “We are determined to expand our hiring opportunities. But it’s a journey.”

Google offers its popular skills courses for free to nonprofits and community colleges, and in February announced a $100 million fund to expand training and job placement programs that focus on low-income workers, typically without a four-year college degree. Google has made real strides in reducing college degree requirements, according to Burning Glass, from 89 percent of jobs in 2017 to 72 percent in 2021 — although that level is still high.

Google’s job listings typically list a “bachelor’s degree” first as a qualification, sometimes followed by other engineering or finance requirements, and almost always end with the phrase “or equivalent practical experience.”

In a statement, Brendan Castle, Google’s vice president of recruiting, said: “Our focus is on proven skills and this can be achieved through degrees or through relevant experience.”

In the technology industry, workforce experts point to Accenture and IBM as companies whose efforts to hire workers without a four-year degree began as corporate responsibility projects that eventually grew into more mainstream hiring pipelines.

This experience, they say, has influenced how companies describe job requirements. The Burning Glass analysis found that both IBM and Accenture require college degrees in less than half of their job postings.

Danica Lohja came to America from Serbia in 2011 with 400 dollars and hopes for a better future. She started working as a waitress at a country club, but Technology seemed to be where the good jobs were. So she earned an associate degree in computer information systems from a community college in Chicago.

Ms. Lohja found out about Accenture’s one-year training program. The company hired her in 2017 and promoted her three times. She is now an assistant manager in the Accenture unit that negotiates contracts and manages the hardware and software suppliers for the large technology services company.

Ms. Lohja declined to say how much she earns. Associate managers at Accenture make more than $110,000 a year, according to job search website Indeed. Ms. Lohja, 35, is married to a software engineer at an insurance company. They own a home in Chicago, send their two young sons to private school, and are going on vacation to Aruba in April.

“I think we’re living the American dream,” she said.

Leave a Comment