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Corporate America breaks its addiction to degree inflation and strikes a blow against the college cartel
View related content: Carpe Diem
In a recent CD post, I featured the Washington Examiner op-ed by Alexander James “More and more companies ditch college degree requirements for jobs” that reported that the employment website Glassdoor compiled a list last month of 15 big companies that no longer require a degree to apply: Google, Ernst & Young, Penguin Random House, Costco Wholesale, Whole Foods, Hilton, Publix, Apple, Starbucks, Nordstrom, Home Depot, IBM, Bank of America, Chipotle, and Lowe’s. Writing in National Review, my AEI colleagues Frederick Hess and Grant Addison explain the implications of that historical development in an article titled “Apple, Google, et al. Strike a Blow against the College Cartel,” here’s final section:
In the public discourse, employment and college degrees are almost inextricably linked: Calls for “college for all” and “college and career readiness” have helped sell the notion that college is essential to landing a lucrative position. Indeed, this zeitgeist almost invites degree inflation: Since everyone knows you go to college to get a good job, it only makes sense that employers would require applicants to have college degrees.
For employers, whatever the real costs, college-degree requirements represent an easy, risk-free way to screen applicants while sidestepping legal culpability. And colleges, of course, reap the outsize benefits of acting as the gatekeepers to employment. It’s an arrangement which allows campus bureaucrats to pull in six-figure salaries while tuition costs soar ever-higher and schools feast on billions in federal student loans and other taxpayer funds.
The big losers here are workers and would-be workers; after all, only a third of U.S. adults have a four-year degree. Requiring a college degree summarily disqualifies non-credentialed workers with relevant skills and experience from the applicant pool. It bars young people from taking entry-level jobs and building the skills and experience that open up new opportunities. And it holds families and would-be workers hostage, forcing them to devote time and money to collecting degrees, whether or not those credentials actually convey much in the way of relevant skills or knowledge.
As we have explained previously, there’s a strong argument that employers who indiscriminately require college degrees are violating federal law. Legality aside, however, the 15 major companies highlighted by Glassdoor show that corporate America can choose to break its addiction to degree inflation. While there are policy changes that could help, businesses have a chance to do well by doing good. They can take the initiative to cultivate new partnerships, expand apprenticeships, charge HR departments with reexamining outdated assumptions, and find ways to move beyond routines that close the door to qualified workers who lack the right piece of paper. Such a shift will be good for employers and for workers. If it’s bad for cash-hungry colleges, well, that’s just a price we’ll have to pay.