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The Retired Investor: Companies Dropping Degree Requirements

By Bill SchmickiBerkshires columnist
In today's tight job market, many companies are dropping the required college degree
Time was that if you wanted to get ahead, find a higher-paying job, and establish financial security go to college. While some of that advice continues to hold, many companies are foregoing the sheepskin in exchange for experience, skills, and competencies workers have developed in the school of hard knocks.
In some respects, the hurtle of a college degree makes no sense when interviewing for a job that does not require college-level skills. I know of dozens of liberal arts majors who ended up working at fast food chains or landscaping.
But don't take my word for it. A labor analytics firm, Burning Glass Institute, and the Strada Education Foundations, a non-profit organization, studied the career path of 10 million people who entered the job market between 2012 and 2021. They found that roughly 52 percent of college grads were not using their skills and credentials in their jobs.
What a person studies in college, followed by the chance to intern were the main determinants of obtaining a college-level career track, according to the study. Given the escalating costs of higher education, along with years of student-debt payments, is it any wonder that the debate over the value of higher education is a hot topic today.
Last year, thanks to a tight labor market, companies began to get wise to the fact that a college degree was not necessary in many areas of employment. ZipRecruiter said the share of jobs that listed a bachelor's degree as a "must" fell from 18 percent in 2022 to 14.5 percent in 2023.
In a recent survey by the same recruiting firm, 45 percent of employers surveyed said they had dropped the degree requirement for certain roles, while 72 percent said they valued a candidate's skills and experience higher than the diploma they hold.  
Even among postings in "college-level occupations" only 78.4 percent of companies insisted on a degree. That is down from 85 percent 25 years ago, according to labor analytics firm Lightcast. In jobs such as insurance sales agents, e-commerce analysts, property appraisers, and call center managers a degree is now seldom required. Other areas where a college degree may give way to skills-based hiring are in health care, financial services, and IT.
That’s good news for a large segment of American workers. Almost two-thirds of the U.S. population over 25 years of age do not have a college degree. And today, America, like many other countries, is facing a long-term labor shortage with no easy solutions. Baby Boomers are retiring. The U.S. birth rates are low and still dropping, and the present shift against immigration by both the public and policymakers has cut off a historic avenue of new labor supply.
Given that 62 percent of Americans do not have a college degree, some companies most notably IBM, Walmart, General Motors, and Medtronic are eliminating degree requirements in hundreds of their job postings. Others are following but old habits die hard. The value of a college degree is deeply embedded in the psyche of many a human resources department. Changing those attitudes take time as does discarding automated screening tools that automatically reject non-college applicants.
One of the most vocal critics of today's college education is billionaire Peter Thiel, an early Facebook investor and founder of PayPal Holdings and Palantir Technologies. A Stanford graduate with degrees in philosophy and law, he became disenchanted with how leading U.S. colleges were turning out graduates. Thiel became convinced that higher education is not in the best interests of most Americans.
Starting in 2010, Thiel established a non-profit foundation that offers to pay students $100,000 to drop out of school to start companies or nonprofits. He selects 20 students per year. Since then, Thiel's program has backed 271 people. Some of those selected have since established successful companies in venture capital as well as in the technology area.
In defense of the college degree, studies still show that recent college grads, aged 22-27 working full time, earned $24,000 more per year than those with only a high school degree. Presumably, these grads were lucky enough to find entry jobs in their chosen fields. 
David Deming, an economist at Harvard University, argues that wage premium for college grads doubles over the life cycle from age 25 to 60 versus high schoolers. More educated workers are also more likely to have paid health insurance, sick and family leave, as well as the ability to work remotely.
As for me, I have long believed that college is not for everyone. Sure, the hard sciences will always be in demand and college is good place to acquire that knowledge base. Beyond that, liberal arts in this country does not seem to be a robust career path if money and security are a topic of concern. I would much rather see a young man or woman give equal consideration to a vocational school after graduating from high school. 

Bill Schmick is the founding partner of Onota Partners, Inc., in the Berkshires. His forecasts and opinions are purely his own and do not necessarily represent the views of Onota Partners Inc. (OPI). None of his commentary is or should be considered investment advice. Direct your inquiries to Bill at 1-413-347-2401 or email him at bill@schmicksretiredinvestor.com.

Anyone seeking individualized investment advice should contact a qualified investment adviser. None of the information presented in this article is intended to be and should not be construed as an endorsement of OPI, Inc. or a solicitation to become a client of OPI. The reader should not assume that any strategies or specific investments discussed are employed, bought, sold, or held by OPI. Investments in securities are not insured, protected, or guaranteed and may result in loss of income and/or principal. This communication may include opinions and forward-looking statements, and we can give no assurance that such beliefs and expectations will prove to be correct. Investments in securities are not insured, protected, or guaranteed and may result in loss of income and/or principal. This communication may include opinions and forward-looking statements, and we can give no assurance that such beliefs and expectations will prove to be correct.



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