Requiring formal education as a default is an inequitable hiring practice we need to end


barn-owl-1208035_960_720Recently, I’ve been seeing more and more job postings list the salary range. This is awesome. As awesome as the Netflix series “Stranger Things,” which I binge-watched in three days in lieu of sleeping. As I mentioned, not listing salary is inequitable, punishing women and people of color and wasting everyone’s time; and the corollary practice of asking for salary history is as evil and gross as the monster in “Stranger Things” and also must be destroyed.

But now, we also need to focus on another pervasive and inequitable hiring practice: our default of requiring a formal degree for practically every job in our sector. If you look at job postings, you’ll likely see language like “Bachelor’s degree in related field required” or “Bachelor’s required, Master’s preferred.” Even for entry-level positions. This mention of a formal degree in job postings is so ingrained in all of us that it is seen as normal, and we don’t even stop to think about it. It’s kind of like having a veggie platter at a party; it doesn’t matter how many people will actually eat the celery sticks and raw cauliflower florets—basically three people—we must have the giant veggie platter!

If we want to create a just society, we have to be more thoughtful of our hiring practices, because this formal education requirement hurts real people and perpetuates the inequity that all of us are fighting against. Here are a few reasons why:

Formal education is expensive: College is ridiculously expensive, which makes it inaccessible to many students. And those who come from low-income families often have to choose between paying for college or helping their families out. Some join the military in order to get an education. Getting a college degree, in many ways, is becoming more and more like climbing Mt. Everest: It’s challenging, will cost at least $60,000 to attempt, and so is often accessible only to a few privileged individuals. Well, why don’t these poor students just borrow some money, you may be thinking. It is not that simple. Across the US, millions of students are in debt. These debts can be life-ruining if you cannot secure a good job. Student loans cannot be discharged through filing bankruptcy. As this depressing article detailing the racket that is the student loans business mentions, you’d be in a better shape “if you were a playboy who’d run up credit card bills living large in the Caribbean than if you were a former student who’d gotten sick or lost your job.” 

Formal education is often interrupted for many: My parents were in high school in Vietnam during the War. My mother carried her younger siblings in baskets attached at either ends of a shoulder pole as they ran from bombs that fell around them. My father enlisted to fight for South Vietnam, and because of that, he was put in labor camp for two years. Neither my parents finished high school. And they are two of the smartest people I know, who used their considerable intelligence to keep us alive as we migrated here, where none of us spoke any English. There are many people like my parents who had their formal education interrupted by factors beyond their control—political prosecution, natural disasters, violence, poverty, forced migration. To imply that these individuals—who experience life challenges most of us can only imagine—are automatically not qualified for a job because they don’t have a Bachelor’s degree is as insulting as it is unjust.

Formal education does not suit everyone’s learning style: I love education. I got my Master’s in Social Work, and it has taught me many helpful things I still use to this day, such as how to get free food. But I know college is not the only way to acquire skills and knowledge. While it is great for many people, the rigidity of our education system does not work for everyone. Some people’s creativity and talents are only unlocked outside the confines of the lecture halls. We value diversity in the sector and yet we underappreciate and look down on the different learning styles, perspectives, and life experiences that our colleagues bring. Some of the most brilliant people in history sucked at school. But they excelled at all sorts of stuff. Let’s keep in mind that one of the most influential people in our society, Bill Gates, is technically a college drop-out. Just because someone learns differently does not make them less smart than someone with a formal education.

Formal education causes us to simplify the concept of qualification: We assume that a college education will give people the basic skills to do a job. But honestly, this is a lazy way to determine qualification. When it comes to complex issues, such as the ones many of us are addressing in the nonprofit sector, it takes way more than whether someone can write term papers and pass exams. Using formal education allows us to ignore evaluating skills that may be more relevant and useful to positions. If we work with foster kids, wouldn’t having some experience in the foster care system be more critical than a psychology degree? If we work with immigrants and refugee populations, wouldn’t having experience living in and working with these communities be more helpful than an Econ major? Seriously, having gone through it, I can say that a lot of the stuff we learn in college and grad school is completely useless in the real world, and there are many people with degrees and few relevant skills.

knowledge-1052014_960_720It is ironic that so many of us are fighting for education equity, working to fix a system we know leaves behind so many people, and yet we still use formal education as a barrier to filter out job applicants. Using formal education as a default perpetuates inequity, and our organizations and our community also suffer for it, because we may be losing out on valuable diversity of perspective, skills, and experiences. So, what do we need to do about it:

Remind ourselves that education is supposed to help us achieve our goals, not define who we are. A colleague on the Nonprofit Happy Hour Facebook page writes,

“Just finished a second interview for a position I’m very much qualified for, and one of the interviewers says, ‘I’m a teacher, so obviously I place a very high value on education, and I’m having a hard time reconciling your lack of education with the rest of your resume. How did you even get these jobs?’”

Holy hummus, what an A-hole, that interviewer. Another colleague, in sympathy, posted this quote by A.M.M. Taylor: “I think people have forgotten that education is supposed to be a tool to help you on your way to greatness, not the definition of how great you are.” Many of us have forgotten that. Society has forgotten that. And education, an amazing tool designed to help people, has often become a weapon to use against them.

Determine if a position really requires an education when you have a new job listing. Think about whether a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree is really necessary, of if someone can do a perfectly good job if they have the skills and experience. If formal education is not really needed, don’t list it as a requirement. There are many positions that absolutely requires formal education. Mental health counseling, medical services, and legal work, for example. Most positions though probably don’t, if we’re honest with ourselves. I’ve been an Executive Director for nearly a decade now, and as universally difficult, complex, and volatile this position is, there is nothing about it that a hardworking, dedicated person cannot learn to do without an expensive formal degree. That’s right, you don’t need a degree to be an ED/CEO. In fact, really, the main qualification someone needs to be a good Executive Director is not a degree, but a high tolerance for pain. If I were on a board hiring an ED, the main question I would ask of candidates would be “How long can you hold this ice cube?”

Target the skills you need and put in language welcoming candidates of different education backgrounds. Your goal when hiring is finding someone who can do the job well, not just someone who has a degree. Focus on the skills and experience the job really needs, and make those the main points in your recruitment process. If you are uncomfortable with getting rid of the mention of formal education, consider saying something like “Bachelor’s degree or equivalent education or experience.”

Stop edu-shaming people. We as a society have unconsciously and sometimes consciously been sending the signal that people who don’t have degrees are somehow less accomplished, less intelligent than those who do. This is clearly not true. People who have degrees should be proud of their achievement, but not use it to make others feel less-than. I am very proud of my degrees. I worked hard for them. I think everyone should have the chance to pursue formal education if they want. But those who cannot, or who decide not to, are likely accomplished in lots of other equally valuable ways. We need to stop using our formal education to shame others.

Create a culture of constant learning and growth. An insidious effect of society’s equating of formal education with intelligence is that we unconsciously think of learning as the end of a journey. “I got my Master’s. Yup, I’m done learning.” Once we remind ourselves that education is a great tool to help us reach our potentials, but not a measure of our intelligence or skills, it allows us all to continue learning. All of us need to focus on furthering our education in various forms, whether we have a degree or not. Organizations should create a culture of learning and growth, and provide support for continuing education and professional development. It will help us see the potential in people when we are hiring and allow us to be open to all forms of education.  

Hiring is a tricky and time-consuming process. We have to determine within a few interactions whether someone is qualified to join the team. A formal degree, then, is kind of like a seal of approval indicating that an applicant is at least smart and hardworking enough to make it through college. Over time, though, this becomes ingrained as the only way that someone can prove their intelligence and dedication, which perpetuates inequity and leaves behind countless brilliant and talented people.

People like my colleague Adel Alamo, who wrote this compelling and informative piece about the inequity of requiring formal education, detailing her own personal struggles trying to go to school while supporting her family. She had to work, often to 10 or 11pm, at her family’s business, cramming in studying during the slow periods at work. Despite these challenges, she still got A’s and graduated from high school in the top 10% of her class, but because of financial reasons still couldn’t get her degree. As Adel says:

“Requiring a college degree for a non-specialized job is in fact adding to the socioeconomic disparity and inequality in this country […] Organizations cannot claim to promote diversity, inclusion, and equality when they require a college degree for non-specialized positions. It perpetuates the cycle of poverty for those that were unfortunate to have been born into a lack of privilege. A college education is not free, and until it is, it should not be the threshold for opportunity.”

There are lots of amazing individuals who would add significantly to our organizations. Some of them have degrees; some do not. If we cannot see and appreciate our non-degreed colleagues because we can’t move beyond the ingrained biases that we have toward formal education, if we cannot see how this perpetuates the very inequity we are trying to fight, then it is we employers who need to be better educated, not our colleagues who don’t have a formal degree.

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43 thoughts on “Requiring formal education as a default is an inequitable hiring practice we need to end

  1. Dare Henry-Moss

    I have been pursuing a Masters in Public Health for the past few years, while I worked full time, had two babies, and was involved in various community endeavors. I am only able to do this because I work at the university and get tuition benefits, but it is still hugely challenging to devote the time required. I was describing to a PhD who teaches in my program and with whom I have worked on a project for over a year, how I struggled with the decision to go back to school at this time because of all my other responsibilities. I described how felt I had no choice since I felt advancement was impossible without letters behind my name and the value of an Ivy League degree was money I couldn’t leave on the table. I was talking about what a racket I thought it was that I was essentially getting a degree that proved I could do the job I already have and that I would not have been able to justify paying full price for it. She commented at the beginning of the conversation that she was unaware I was not a PhD and then went on to disagree with me about the part about it being a racket. She did not seem to get the irony.

    1. Jeremiah Underhill

      This country is loaded with EDs, CEOs, and hiring managers who couldn’t find talent with the Hubble telescope. The irony in your colleague’s statement is truly laughable.

  2. DallasRising

    Sometimes I feel like you write just for me, Vu.

    Though I’m happy to be a full time student this semester working toward my undergrad, the major reason I’m doing so is because of this requirement listed on nearly every job posting I’ve seen. When I tell people I’m going back to school they automatically think I’m going for a masters. I’ve been a regular speaker in college classes, colloquiums, and on-campus conferences for years through my work. I’m published, quoted, and successfully grew two nonprofits from next-to-dead to thriving. Despite these accomplishments, without a degree, most job listings send a message that they don’t consider me qualified for their team.

    And I’m well aware that the only reason I can afford to do this is because I’m married to a (straight, white, able bodied, college educated) guy who was able to secure a well paying job in the tech industry with very little effort. Not a day goes by that I don’t notice the privilege that comes from being partnered with him. I wouldn’t have been able to afford to work in the nonprofit sector for as long as I did without his support.

    I’ve always regretted not graduating because society seems to value that piece of paper so much and that value system has rubbed off on me. I’m thrilled to be back on campus, I love learning, I love my school. I just wish I were returning for a more joyous reason than to collect something I’m made to feel less-than without.

    1. J101nas

      I call it degree creep. I have seen ads in my tiny rural paper that ask
      for a Masters for a P/T counseling position that pays $13 per hour. We really need to examine what is taking place in most college programs.
      I often think many professors have never had to work outside academia,
      and can’t relate to what is really and truly needed to function in the
      rough and tumble work world. Since when do you need a Bachelor’s degree to take minutes?
      Instead of turning out finely trained individuals equipped with the necessary skills they need to function in the real world, problem solve with the
      resources they have on hand, and adapt, adjust and improvise to work
      through day to day situations (especially in the np world) many graduates are woefully unprepared to handle even simple tasks. They want all the perks, but are taken aback when asked to actually perform. My own college experience gave me few skills I really needed for my first job-I wound up going to the library night after night to read up on what I would be doing the next day, and then putting it into practice. It was hands-on learning at its best, but I felt cheated. I have watched it happen time and time again. We seem to be watering down the very education we are demanding more and more of.

  3. Hickory Hill

    I’m going to disagree with your post this time. Granted, there are some jobs that do not require formal education, but professional positions should. I work with kids from K-12 almost everyday in my job as a museum director. I have had some of those 11th and 12th graders intern for us and have come to the absolute conclusion that America’s educational system and the way many people are parenting today (read: every child gets a trophy, there is only 1 right answer on the fill in the bubble test, and “don’t worry, honey, I’ll do it for you”) are NOT preparing people for the work world. I’ve had plenty of undergrad interns that have the same problems. IF they can get to work on time they cannot work independently, they cannot problem solve, they cannot look at a situation and “see” what needs doing, and FORGET about dealing with a stressful situation (had a college sophomore burst into tears when a storm knocked out the power). In many ways, college is not about the theories and paradigms studied, rather it it about training for LIFE. Young people learn how to be responsible for managing themselves; if they don’t they flunk out. Graduate school is even more about learning to jump through the hoops we call the “professional world.” You better, by gum, align with your thesis advisor’s paradigm or look out! My 2 cents.

  4. Jeremiah Underhill

    Along with the unnecessary requirement of a degree there is something else that is just as inherently unfair and disgusting. There are more graduates every year from the University of Texas & Penn State combined than all 8 ivy league schools combined. Yet people continually apply the logic of unless you graduated from an elite university you need not apply. These degree snobs filter out people, with no formal education or people with degrees from state universities and community colleges, from positions of influence. The lack of educational diversity in these positions of influence within the nonprofit world is quite shocking. Only a very small percentage of the working population has graduated from Stanford, MIT, Duke, an Ivy League School, or the handful of other universities considered “elite”. The numbers are really sparse when you consider that a large chunk of these “elite” graduates stay in academia. Yet time and again when you see the make up of an executive team or board of directors these “elite” individuals make up a grossly disproportionate number of the decision makers. Case in point, a 2010 study revealed that nonprofits boards in 7 large American cities were severely over represented by ivy league graduates. (37% – Hospital Boards, 37% – Cultural Organization Boards, 29% Community Foundation Boards, 53% – College or University Boards) See The American Bourgeoisie (2010). These ivy league graduates only make up roughly .2% (two tenths of a percent) of the U.S. population. In a country were diversity is supposed to be championed at every level we are falling flat on our face when it comes to creating a cross section of American on our nonprofit boards. This needs to stop. We have amazing people in this country who graduated from a state university and we have amazing people in this country who don’t have a college degree. We need more of these amazing people on our nonprofit boards. Why should .2% of the population shape and steer our nonprofits?

    1. Ann Green

      I agree there that there is a bias towards hiring people with degrees from Ivy league and other “elite” universities. Not that these aren’t good schools. Of course they are,but so are many state universities. I was once passed over for a position because the person they hired had a master’s degree from Harvard (not necessary for that position), even though I was an internal candidate.

    2. Patrick Taylor

      This bias towards elite schools makes me nuts. I went to a state school, and I was surrounded by a diverse population of hard-working, intelligent students who were challenged academically. Meanwhile my friends who went to private school seemed just as likely to major in getting high and slacking off as anyone at my state school. Not more likely, but just as likely.

  5. Sean Hale

    There’s plenty to agree with here.

    I’ve worked with some really bright, highly qualified people who didn’t have a degree in their field or, sometimes, any sort of advanced degree at all. They’ve picked up great skills on the job and are really noteworthy professionals in their fields.

    I’ve also known people with advanced degrees who were spectacularly unqualified. I had one coworker with a computer science degree who was like a deer in the headlights with any technology newer than about 1994.

    A good hiring process doesn’t take for granted what someone puts in their resume anyway. It digs deeper to see if the person truly has what it takes to do the job well and is a good match for the organization.

  6. betty barcode

    These ever-steepening job requirements are what happens when it is a buyer’s market. And when it has been a buyer’s market for decades. Which is the case in most northeastern cities hit by decades of job loss and disinvestment.

    Where I live, if you post a full-time position in the cultural sector (museums, libraries, archives, orchestras, theaters, etc.) you usually get a hundred+ resumes. If your organization is so small that you have no HR department standing by to sift and review applications, you resort to legally accepted criteria for winnowing them down.

    Since I have a postgraduate degree in a profession where you cannot pass yourself off as an X without the degree that I have, I am bound to be considered biased in this debate. Nevertheless, I just wanted to point out that it is not necessarily bad faith, prejudice, or substandard ethics driving the escalation of credentialing; it might just be a saturated labor market.

    [Edit: when it is a seller’s market–more jobs than applicants–credential requirements suddenly ease up.]

    1. Patrick Taylor

      I get that, but I think that employers can still ask themselves about their requirements, especially if they are trying to have a more diverse and inclusive workspace. I think one of the reasons why so many companies skew male and white is that they are looking for employees that look like them, with the same credentials from the same narrow group of universities. Obviously if you are hiring a doctor, lawyer, etc. the credentials matter. But for an entry or mid-level admin position? I have two advanced degrees and how to field client complaints, fill out an excel spreadsheet, facilitate a meeting, work with demanding funders, or manage volunteers was not any part of my coursework. I learned all that on the job.

    2. murzim

      This is the real reason behind degree requirements. Which is why they are simply discriminatory.

  7. Mehitabel

    This is a tough one. I have a long habit of asking for an AA degree for entry-level positions, and I perhaps need to start re-thinking that. I will say that almost always my job postings ask for a degree or equivalent experience. I do recognize the value of on-the-job training; my own master’s degree didn’t really do anything for me but get my foot in the door for a first job that I had to pretty much learn from the ground up. I can’t really say that I believe that the degree gave me any solid practical preparation for my career.

    I have found that I am paying less attention these days to whether or not candidates have a degree, and more attention to whether or not they can communicate effectively, particularly in writing. I have worked with college-educated people — bright and capable in pretty much every other respect — who can’t write a coherent paragraph or sometimes even a sentence. I have seen emails sent from (college-educated) manager-level staff to co-workers and constituents that are full of grammatical, spelling and punctuation errors, and it sets my teeth on edge. I don’t blame them — I blame an educational system that is so broken that it allows people to graduate high school and sometimes even college while being for all intents and purposes only semi-literate. So I really do wonder these days why anyone should ask for a degree for jobs that don’t absolutely require specialized education/training.

  8. LeighzArts

    I completely agree with this. My father is the hardest working person I know. He has also been a welder since he was 18 years old, needless to stay he has 42 years of experience, yet still can’t get a job at several places because he doesn’t have a high school diploma. It wasn’t required when he was young, now it is. Also, we can say welders are in demand, but if we aren’t willing to pay them for their job, why the heck would they want to do it?

  9. SarahChicago

    Love love love this (as usual). Thank you so much for tying in the different learning styles with our collective commitment to diversity. I have fought that battle for years at my former organization on behalf of artists, and continue to wage war with the world on my own behalf as a 30-year veteran of nonprofits who continues to be degree-shamed into not even applying for positions for which I am overqualified (and thus, ironically, am under-earning and can’t afford school). At the civic, county, and federal level this is even worse, and I hope that posts like yours will begin to turn the tide.

    Further, someone who has spent x number of years pursuing a degree full-time may have missed out on those years of soft skills development, and I have seen some highly degreed folks flounder in the professional world.

    If hiring organizations are concerned about skills, and the ability to jump through hoops, just ask the right questions at interviews. Do a writing test, ask for examples of experience related to the position you are filling, etc. 9.9 times out of ten, the experiences candidates share that relate to the job will have been gleaned from other jobs, not degree programs.

  10. David Lynn

    We refer to this as the university-industrial complex. With universities often playing the role of the 800-pound gorilla in the social sector, they spend a lot of time promoting the value of their degrees.

  11. reader

    It will help no one to continue the myth that college has to be expensive and that all students end up loaded with debt. In your own state of Washington, there is an outstanding, inexpensive community college system (offering an increasing number of four-year degrees) and an excellent state need grant program (in addition to federal Pell grants). A college education does not require loading up on debt. If you’re really interested in the issue, you’d do better reviewing Sandy Baum’s research as a source.

    And Bill Gates, who had the luxury of a very-high quality private HS education (Lakeside), and a wealthy family to cushion any fall, would be the very first person to tell you to finish college. In fact, he says it a lot.

    Of course good hiring practices are more than ticking off boxes. It requires nuance. Anything done well usually does.

    1. Dina Elenbaas

      Even as an in-state student in Washington State, I still ended up with $15,000 debt – that’s not as much as some places, sure, but it’s still an awful lot to stare at as you’re beginning your career.

    2. murzim

      Even with grants etc, folks still need to eat and pay rent and forgo salary to go to school. It’s especially hard on folks who live in rural communities who can’t even rely on their parents for housing while they learn.

      And it’s a lot of unicorn dust to suggest most can do it without getting any debt at all. And why? To check a box?

      If the job doesn’t actually specifically use the degree (which is pretty much almost any job asking for a bachelors) then it shouldn’t list a bachelors as a requirement.

  12. asp

    New follower and first time commenter – and a big fan of informal education – so I had to chime in on this one. Holy hummus indeed Vu! I feel seen!! Thank you for your thoughtful and motivating prose. I find myself nodding and getting emails to people in power ready once reading your call to arms.

    I held the ice cube (if you will) for six years as the head of a prominent leadership development program where my mantra was “Gimme a teen with a sense of themselves, some humility and a sense of humor any day over a Shakespeare quoting, never-got-less-than-an-A candidate who freezes at a simple question that demands some honest independent reflection.”

    I see job descriptions all of the time with corporatized language, hyped up degree requirements and a curiously ever-growing list of certification demands that are clearly unnecessary. I can easily imagine who these folks are looking for…people just like them, who are also strangled by fear and ignorance.

    As a person who will be in hock till I die – as a result of my advanced degree (even with scholarships paying half) – I can honestly say I could have done any of my jobs without the pricy and sparkly advanced degree. However, I wouldn’t have had a chance of getting those great opportunities without the degree. I think hiring managers are going for expedience and a brutal manner of culling the herd at the expense of talented and creative people who need people to look a little deeper, have a little faith and take an ever so little leap.

    One last dubiously related point, I wish people would stop bad-mouthing teens. Truly the best workers I ever had were courageous, resourceful and brilliant 12th graders.

  13. Addison

    Seriously, STFU. You are just another whining Millenial who can’t deal with standards and practices; you want everything adjusted so you can feel “safe” and not “threatened.” No – sorry, kid, but there’s a lot to be said for having pursued secondary education, most of all because it shows that the applicant has a certain amount of discipline when it comes to applying oneself. If not, GTF OUTTA HERE!

    1. 1614omra

      How did you even end up on this page? You clearly have no idea who Vu is or what he does for our community and our sector. You clearly have no idea about his accomplishments or his own advanced education. Did you stumble upon a link somewhere? You aren’t aware of the two organizations he’s led, the lives he’s changed, the community he’s built here in our home town, his successes as a writer, a speaker, a leader, a change- maker. He gets stuff done. You’re sitting around writing long diatribes about porn…

    2. Patrick Taylor

      If you are looking for examples of discipline and applying oneself, surely there are other measures besides whether someone was able to get a university degree.

      Also, I didn’t see him talk about wanting to be safe or not threatened. He’s challenging predominant standards and practices and asking if they are really necessary, which is something that all of us should do on a regular basis. Doing something because that’s how we’ve been doing it forever isn’t always the best practice.

  14. House0fTheBlueLights

    OT: I understand your need to put the ads on here to meet payroll, but I can now no longer read the site. It just crashes my computer. Is there any way you can look into an “ad fewer” type of monthly subscription, where we pay monthly and only see your own ads (like for NPWB merch)? It look me almost 15 minutes to get to a stable screen to post this comment.)

  15. Becca

    One of my favorite community partners at a local CBO is fond of saying she has a “PHD”: A Pittsburgh High school Diploma. She’s a wonderful program director, too. I’ve met plenty of really talented staff who came into their skills through means other than formal education. Thank you for the reminder about including something like “Bachelor’s degree or equivalent education or experience” instead of just straight out requiring a BA, etc.

  16. D Laurier Beaulieu

    there was a time when formal education was rare, and most people did with informal education. Self educated meant smart, and capable. It carried with it the assumption of being able to think, and to solve problems.
    What happened to that?

  17. Elizabeth

    *Applause* Yes! I love education when we’re talking about skills and knowledge. I am one of the world’s biggest fans of learning But education as a credentialing and job-screening system just reinforces privilege and inequality. Individuals and small groups can sometimes improve their lives economically by using diplomas and degrees as a tool. But it doesn’t work on a systemic level to solve poverty or social inequality. The rich/privileged have more access to education, and have the resources to get a master’s when everyone else is getting a bachelor’s, or to spend years working for free as an intern when others commit themselves to huge amounts of debt. In some ways, it’s a pyramid scheme.

    I don’t know if I’ve phrased that as well as I could, but the bottom line is: if you’re in a position to hire or write job requirements, please think carefully about whether a degree is required, or whether you can measure people’s competence in other, better ways.

  18. Kelly Padgett

    I agree, the struggle is real. Ive worked all my life, and been passed up for jobs that I know i can do all because I didn’t have a degree and was told so. I just spent the last 4 years living and working in Vietnam in the photo and video industry.. now that I’m back here…. things are looking bleak.

  19. Quantumphysica

    I have noticed that where I live, in Belgium, there is often a line in the requirements section of a job ad stating “degree in XYZ, or equivalent in relevant experience”, as to give people without formal education a chance to apply as well. I’ve only ever seen this in non-science job ads though. (And from experience I know that people without formal education usually have a very hard time getting through selection procedures, even when their application is accepted.) I think it’s incredibly important that people without formal education also get the chance to find a decent job, and that life experience isn’t discounted in favor of book wisdom. Especially in America, where it’s so hard and costly to get a degree, more people should be aware of this problem…

  20. Seth Jonathan Matthew Madison

    I agree that a lot of positions have weird degree requirements. One of my best friends was an English major and intended to go to law school. Now she’s interested in counseling but can’t get a job as a case manager because she doesn’t have a degree in psychology. That’s stupid. She’s qualified for that type of job, and what she lacks in psychological knowledge she could easily learn on the job and with training modules. I have seen job postings that I know I could do, but I didn’t even apply for them because I don’t have a master’s and the word “required” was in big bold letters. I also didn’t want to piss off the person who was screening applications. But I think requiring some formal education is good, depending on the position. I don’t know that I would trust someone without a bachelor’s to do the job of a case manager. I think we often give students and recent graduates too little credit. There’s a certain amount of maturity and sense of responsibility that you gain through the process of earning a degree. Having earned a degree alone demonstrates a great deal of skills. Granted, not the level of skill that will come with 20+ years of work experience, but still… transferable skills. What’s bizarre is requiring degrees for no reason or requiring a level of education that, if you can find the candidate who matches your requirement, will result in overqualification and a revolving door.

    1. Mary Cahalane

      And the real point of a liberal arts education, anyway, aren’t area-specific skills. It’s about critical thinking, good communication, an interest in the world and curiosity.

      You can have all that without the degree. So while I definitely value my education – and want my kids to have the same – I think the key isn’t putting the education down as much as being open to someone will the skills you need, regardless of diploma.

    2. HelloThere777

      Indeed. Don’t want to go in the opposite extreme of ruining the job market for graduates, especially since they have that mountain of debt to pay off. It wouldn’t be fixing elitism so much as switching targets.

  21. Michael Brand

    Want to expand on my comment below. Over a decade ago the state of Pennsylvania went from a model of “child care” to one of ‘early education’. With that nonprofit providers suddenly had new requirements that staff be ‘highly qualified’ which meant “college degree”. People with 10-20 years experience were suddenly out of a job (or more likely went into private day care). The people coming in were generally newly minted college grads many of who held substantial student loan debt. Salary back then was approx $24k/yr. Result was a high rate of turnover as staff could not afford to live/pay debt on their earnings.

  22. Bob Altizer

    Formal education is invaluable It gives you the opportunity to learn about the world and yourself, while giving you a basic grounding in the fundamentals of a field.

    What’s far less useful is the commodity degree that too many people settle for, which gives them letters on a transcript but none of the value of an actual education — indeed, too often not even adequate training in the latest hot, but short-lived, subject of the moment.

    “You élitist!”, I can hear many saying. “I didn’t have the luxury of having my parents pay for four years of leisure in a traditional college. I had to support myself and my family!”

    I understand, and good for you if you’re now going back to school to get that much-needed degree. But when you do, understand that you must be prepared to treat school just as seriously, with as much full-time attention, as the “élitist” full-time 20-something student. That means no leisure activities, no vacations, and little of any family time.

    As adjunct college faculty I’ve seen far too many “students” who thought they could get by with a few minutes of browsing course material after dinner, before they settle in to watch that movie, game, or sitcom on their favorite streaming device. They were pretty easy to identify in the first couple of weeks of a term, and we have a term for them: Failures.

  23. Linda Rogers

    If you are going to do away with formal education as a requirement, I think you are going to have to do some pretty in-depth skill-testing. I actually work in an organization where people who have alternate types of experience have been hired and it hasn’t been universally successful. It is difficult to graduate from university without being able to write a coherent essay, do basic research, understand what plagiarism is, and use a computer for more than Facebook posts.

    What my experience has been is that you create a new type of unfairness in the workplace with this sort of hiring practice because you expect people to be able to do things they’ve never been trained to do. Additionally it puts a burden on other staff to mentor these individuals unofficially and the unofficial nature of the mentorship can be awkward, especially as job roles change. So unfair to the under-educated staff member and unfair to the staff members with the training to be able to do all aspects of the job.

  24. Liza Miles

    Absolutely. It now seems that you need a master to clean the washroom! As a baby boomer I was fortunate to learn my former career in production as a craft on the job. I did go to school, at the expense of my employer for single camera directing. Later I chose a career change and knew I needed specialist skill training, so I went to college as a mature student. Now I supervise practicum student and have volunteers. It is so frustrating to have some really marvelous young people so focused on text book application that they do not use their critical thinking and imaginative skills. Learning on the job, proper entry level training programs offered by employees are a win win for everyone. Colleges and uiniversities have become big business leading too many young people into unaffordable debt loads.

  25. Melanie Aquino Vivo

    I don’t live in the United States but this article and even the comments of the people in this forum are spot on. We experience the same thing here in our country where people with considerable job experience, great talent, skill, intelligence and are passed on for people with degrees from “elite schools” despite their lack of the right competency and attitude for the job. You would also be surprised to find out that despite the lack of experience and skill, these people from “better schools” get higher salaries than those who’ve been doing the job for quite some time.
    Case in point, I had a friend who told me about her frustrations because she just found out (by accident) that the newly-hired assistant from their department was almost getting the same salary as she was, just to note (1) the newly-hired assistant graduated a year earlier and had only 6 months worth of job experience — my friend had been in the industry for almost 15 years (2) the newly-hired was being pushed for promotion but couldn’t get past the initial assessment for reasons I cannot share — my friend had been recently promoted because she’d been doing really well in her job and is now leading a team (3) the newly-hired graduated from an “elite school” — my friend was from an unknown school.
    We see this immense disparity over and over and yet most people seem to accept it as a norm and just choose to ignore the flaw in our society. I hope that people will eventually get past these biases and realize that there should me more to graduating from an “elite school”.

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