Season 5, Episode 2:

College Degrees… The Expectation, or the Exception

Think you need to go to college to be successful nowadays? Think again. Companies like Google, Microsoft, and Apple have all recently gotten rid of their requirements for tertiary education– but is this an attempt to find the not-so-obvious talent, or is it a signal that the value of a degree has dropped? We’ve touched on the topic before, but this week on Recruiter Fuel we tackle the impact of a market, “saturated with degrees,” and what to do when you don’t have one.

“Why are companies now saying you don’t need a college education?”

“There’s kind of an in-between,” Robin started, “[college] teaches you responsibility, time management, organization… it takes a lot more than turning in homework… a degree is more about starting something and showing you can finish it.” All of us who have gone through college would agree that it takes more effort than just going to class. If it teaches all of these valuable life skills though, why are some major companies doing away with requiring post-secondary education? “You can learn the same things inside a classroom as you can outside,” she continued, “but most of us have just gained skills going to class or earning your degree.” Brett took the mic next, saying that from what he has observed, the value of a degree has dropped. “It’s about what value you provide to that company,” not the value your degree in itself will add.

“Show of hands… who is practicing in the industry your degree is in?”

Though the majority of our panel raised their hands, nearly half didn’t. Ian took the mic just after this question was raised. Though he didn’t earn a degree, he was able to use his experience in the workplace to propel him to his current position as marketing manager. “One of the reasons I left school was because I had a chance to go practice the things I was learning about… some of it has to do with the industry that you’re in.” Nods were shared throughout the panel in response to this statement. Steve also added, “If I’m a doctor… if I’m a lawyer, I’d better have a degree!” Ian concluded noting, “You have to stay on top of your field… what they taught in marketing classes 15 years ago when I went doesn’t have as much value today… none of that information is going to be relevant.” There are certain fields where a college education is necessary, but what is more important in others is your ability to maintain on top of trends in your field. Who would you hire, the person with the 15-year-old marketing degree, or the person with no further education but a lot more experience?

“I’m sure my parents are having a heart attack listening to all of this!”

Our resident young person, Dana, was next to weigh in on the matter as she’d soon be going to college herself. “I’m sure my parents are having a heart attack listening to all of this,” she began, showing there is another side to this issue. “It’s sort of discouraging. My parents and I are putting so much money into this.” Though there’s still value to a college education, it’s hard to deny that there’s a shift happening. “Is this going to be around $100,000 wasted that I can be spending finding something that better qualifies me somewhere else?” Steve pointed out how by being an intern, she is gaining an upper hand with experience even before she even goes to school. Taking opportunities as you find them even while going to school seems to be a safe middle ground.

“Does a degree guarantee success?”

“Not necessarily,” Raleigh started, “but it puts some merit to it… it gives you a leg up.” Though Dana gave a sigh of relief, that didn’t dismiss the fact that the market is often described as being, “saturated with degrees.” “Four years ago, when I was in university that was the whole thing…everybody was going to college… we don’t need fifty billion engineers.” Though given the current shortage, “we might need another billion,” Steve laughed, many historically high paying fields are getting an increased volume of people who have the education necessary but not the talent or skills due to a lack of experience. Computer programming is unique, Raleigh described, because many people who go into the field are predisposed to the skills needed and have a passion for the work—which would explain why major tech companies are doing away with degree requirements.

“There are other things more relevant to employers.”

Justin also weighed in saying that he thinks that college education has remained just as valuable, it is just other opportunities and pathways to success have become more relevant to some. “I know several people who before they were even out of middle school were excellent at math, like college level… but yet they still had to spend four years in college pretty much learning the same things they already knew. They’ve pretty much lost four years of time they could’ve been entering their field and applying what they know.” Especially in an ever-evolving field like software development, four years is a lot of time. Anthony continued this thought, making note of how you learn other skills with a degree that aren’t on the curriculum. “Companies are going to start dropping the requirements on degrees because they’re looking for the talent.” If you aren’t able to find the opportunities on your own, college is also there to network. “You’re going to learn about the field and how to get into the field… much higher education now is pushing students to step outside of the classroom.”

“I was talking to a client… the president of a software business. He happens to not have a degree when the requirement was to have one.”

A number of years ago Steve placed the president of a software company who didn’t have a college education when the requirement for the job was to have one. What was his advice? There’s still more to discuss on this topic in season five, and we will cover it all. Next week we continue the conversation in Part Two of College Degrees… The Expectation, or the Exception.

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