"Three seemingly innocuous words" are barring millions of Americans from good jobs they're fully capable of doing: "bachelor's degree required," Bryon Auguste, CEO of Opportunity@Work and a former deputy director of the National Economic Council, writes in a Washington Post opinion piece.
How screening by college degrees leads to exclusion
Auguste shares how, 50 years ago, his father—who did not have a bachelor's degree—was able to secure a well-paying job as a junior computer programmer after shadowing another worker at the company and showing management that he had the skills necessary to do the work.
Nowadays, however, workers like Auguste's father are unlikely to have the same opportunity. Auguste explains that almost 75% of new jobs between 2007 and 2016 were positions where employers typically require applicants have bachelor's degrees—even though less than two-thirds of U.S. workers have such a degree.
And this "damage falls hardest" on Black, Latino, and rural workers, Auguste writes. Almost 70% of African American workers and nearly 80% of Latino workers currently lack bachelor's degrees, as do more than 70% of all rural workers.
According to Auguste, while screening out applicants by whether they have a degree is not illegal, it is a "damaging bias" that leads to companies overlooking potentially talented workers and reinforces existing economic inequalities. And it is particularly detrimental for midmarket and small businesses, which may otherwise struggle to find workers, he adds.
The overlooked 'STARs' of the workforce
While some people may argue that a bachelor's degree represents important cognitive skills, Auguste writes that college is not the only way people can learn or gain skills. More than 70 million workers in the United States do not have bachelor's degrees but are "skilled through alternative routes" (STARs). These STARs, according to Auguste, include people who have acquired skills through military training, certificate programs, community college, or simply by learning on the job.
In fact, according to Auguste, STARs already make up an important part of the workforce: two-thirds of essential workers during the current pandemic are STARs. And by focusing solely on workers with higher education, employers are creating a "skills gap" out of what is actually an "opportunity gap" in disguise.
Auguste argues that smart employers are working to change their hiring practices to focus on relevant skills instead of how those skills are gained. For instance, IBM's New Collar job program got rid of degree requirements and is instead focusing on skills. In addition, Ryan Roslansky, LinkedIn's CEO, recently said that the company would test skills-based tools to create more accessible paths for high-paying jobs for workers without degrees.
"Let's hope the exclusionary, degree-based hiring is destined for the ash heap of history," Auguste writes. "Employers played a leading role in building it, but they can also lead in dismantling and replacing it." (Auguste, Washington Post, 7/20)