Why Do Employers Require College Degrees?

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Synopsis

We should be making sure job opportunities are open to as many capable people as possible, regardless of where they come from or how much money their parents make.

You read a lot about it these days — “Is college for everyone?” “Are there benefits to going to college?” “How do people who do not go to college fare in life?” Due to the continuous growth in income and class disparity in the USA along with the continuous growth of college tuition prices, poor, working class, and lower middle class children are questioning whether or not college is worth all of the expense it brings.

I think a lot of the discussion around this topic so far misses some of the major issues, such as: Why do so many employers insist on college as a job requirement? Does college actually prepare people for the work they are going to do? Since most jobs are obtained through connections — usually from parents’ friends and family — why all the emphasis on college? And lastly, and most importantly, why can’t companies and industries themselves provide the education and training their employees need to perform their jobs?

Large corporations and large industries are the ones currently making the most money in the country. Many of them have various methods to get out of paying taxes, thereby reducing government funding that used to help provide decent educations and keep college tuitions reasonable. They are also the ones who know exactly what skills their future employees will need. So why not leave training and educating employees up to them?

For centuries, people learned jobs through apprenticeships, and often did wonderful, complex work as a result. Other countries, like Germany, still use apprenticeships as an entry to the work force, and show positive results.  Switzerland and Australia provide rigorous pathways to careers through strong vocational training programs which have shown to be very successful in keeping youth unemployment rates low. A small number of US companies will pay for graduate schooling for employees if the study relates to the work you are doing, so why can’t more companies do that for college and job skill training as well?

Even with a college degree, nobody walks into a job ready to just jump in and take the reins. And certain studies show that some of the best job candidates don't have college degrees. So then why have college degrees become so important for getting a job in the USA? Why can’t companies find other ways to screen for good employees and take on more of the responsibility of preparing their own employees for the work they need them to do? Don’t the companies stand to make the most profit from well-trained employees?

A few companies are finally realizing the benefits of apprenticeships and of funding employer education. Starbucks has initiated a program where employees working 20 hours/week are entitled to a free online college education via Arizona State University. The Steel Industry is partnering with community colleges in Cleveland to create a next generation of steel workers. The Apprentice School is funded by military contractors and provides training, education, job placement, and even budgeting and house-purchasing guidance, in its highly-competitive program. More and more high schools are returning to offering career prep in addition to college prep. So, are apprentice programs finally back in vogue? One would hope so, as it makes a lot of sense for many young people.

College doesn’t necessarily teach you more than you could learn on your own and it definitely doesn’t teach you what a few weeks on the actual job will teach you. Moreso, if college doesn’t give you real-world job experience and doesn’t help get you a job out of college, is it useful for anyone except the students from the wealthiest families? "Learning for learning's sake" is wonderful, but very few can afford that luxury.

I went to a top college and did very well academically and socially. I enjoyed my time there for the most part, but I kept thinking to myself “Is this really what I’ve worked so hard to get to all these years? What am I even learning here I couldn’t have learned on my own through reading and working?” And when it came time for job interviews senior year, despite having a 3.8 GPA and many extracurricular activities, in addition to a part time on-campus job, the interviewers primarily asked me about my background, where I grew up, and what my parents did. Additionally, once I began working, I realized there was a huge disconnect between what I'd learned about how to succeed at college and what I needed to do to succeed at work, so what did college really prepare me for?

It became clear to me over the years that the college degree requirement wasn’t there to ensure some certain amount of knowledge, but to ensure that “certain types” of people are kept away from certain job opportunities. It also made me realize that the idea most people have, that a top degree equals success and wealth, was more about correlation than causation. The degree doesn’t necessarily lead to the success and wealth, it’s just that a lot more rich families send their kids to top schools because they can afford to do what is needed to get them there.  These kids would have gotten into top jobs, regardless of college, from their parents' connections. This concept that family wealth and connections count more than the degree has been researched and reported about more and more lately, in various studies and publications. Basically, these studies have found that requiring college degrees and only selecting students from “top” colleges, allows companies to exclude an entire demographic of people based on a degree that doesn’t teach much to begin with.  It is more about classism than preparation.

It is time to shift the responsibility for educating and training people for jobs on to the companies that stand to make the most profit from their employees’ work. We need to turn our energy and money away from school and degrees and certifications, and we can turn our attention to apprenticeships, employer-funded education, on-the-job training, and to making sure job opportunities are open to as many capable people as possible, regardless of where they come from or how much money their parents make.

Nina Fiore (@NeedsNYC) is a Digital Strategist, Writer/Editor, Small Business Consultant with a background in Ed/Tech/Psych.  BA and EdM, Harvard. See more HERE

Tags: college, education, inequality, job market, nina fiore

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