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Dropping Degree Requirements: Do Employers Still Care About Education?

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The talent pool for government jobs in the state of Maryland just got deeper. 

As reported by the Baltimore Sun, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan recently announced that some government roles in the Old Line State will no longer require four-year degrees, as part of a new initiative designed to expand job opportunities.

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With 38,000 employees, the state government is one of Maryland’s largest employers, and “thousands of state jobs in every department will be open to applicants with relevant experience and training, particularly in the information technology, administrative and customer-service sectors, which previously required a college degree,” according to the newspaper.

Maryland’s Department of Legislative Services has reported a record number of open positions across the state, saying that this “vacancy crisis” is adversely affecting state government operations. 

Indeed, the state currently has more than 8,600 open jobs within the executive branch. Roles with the highest vacancy rates include parole and probation agents, case managers for juvenile services, registered nurses, social workers and nursing assistants. Maryland’s Department of Health and the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services each have a 14% vacancy rate, and several departments have vacancy rates above 10%, the Sun reported. 

Such numbers have helped drive the state’s decision to drop four-year degree prerequisites for many of its government roles. 

According to the Maryland Department of Budget and Management, more than half of all government jobs “can be staffed by workers with relevant skills, rather than a college degree,” the Sun’s Lilly Price wrote. 

As part of the new initiative, “more than 300 state government jobs currently are open to applicants without a bachelor’s degree who are active in the labor force, have a high school diploma or equivalent, and have developed skills through community college, apprenticeships, military service, boot camps or previous job experience.” 

By relaxing educational requirements, “we are ensuring qualified, non-degree candidates are regularly being considered for these career-changing opportunities,” Gov. Hogan said at a news conference announcing the hiring initiative. 

Ravin Jesuthasan, global transformation services leader at Mercer, foresees more organizations starting to put less emphasis on formal education when evaluating job applicants.  

“I believe more states, along with private sector employers, will follow this trend and no longer require four-year degrees for certain roles.”

Academic experience does little to predict on-the-job performance anyway, he said.  

“The college degree is an incredibly poor indicator of work readiness. It creates an artificial barrier for connecting talent to work and results in the exclusion of large swathes of otherwise highly qualified talent from work. Many governments and organizations are realizing that a large amount of work can be performed by talent that are skilled through alternative routes [STARs].”

In terms of how taking degrees out of the equation might affect pay for a given role, “compensation is most often driven by the market value of the job or, increasingly, by the market value of the skills required to perform the work,” Jesuthasan added. 

Education or degrees have typically been seen as “a shortcut to assess an associated level of knowledge and experience,” said Brad Hill, principal at Clearwater Human Capital, a Chicago-based compensation firm. 

Noting the difficulty in determining how if at all a degree correlates with performance or actual job knowledge, Hill agrees that more companies are likely to eliminate degree requirements. 

“But that doesn’t mean that looking at an applicant’s education level will go away,” he added. “I think education will still be used as a shortcut to assess knowledge, but other intellectual or challenging experiences will also be viewed as important considerations.”

Eliminating baseline education standards altogether would mean having to replace this criterion with a different, “semi-objective factor to assess knowledge requirements at different levels of the organization, and that may not be easy,” Hill concluded.

“We would need to describe the knowledge and thinking needed in the job in non-degree terms. This will require significantly more effort than using our degree shortcut. I’m not sure many organizations will be up for that task.” 

About the Author

Mark-McGraw (1).jpg Mark McGraw is the managing editor of Workspan. 


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