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Is Skills-Based Hiring The Future?

September 7, 2023

Key Takeaways:

  • A growing number of states and companies are eliminating degree requirements for certain professions.
  • Proponents of skills-based hiring argue that college degrees are an expensive, unnecessary obstacle, especially for low-income and minority populations.
  • However, data suggests skills-based hiring may not be as transformative as it appears – and that college is still a good investment.


This blog is based on a New York Times guest essay by Ben Wildavsky. Read it here.

In a world of fast-paced job markets and evolving career paths, the debate surrounding the worth of a college degree has become increasingly heated.

It is frequently claimed that degrees are losing their importance, with some states even eliminating degree requirements for certain professions and major companies like IBM and Accenture following suit. However, amidst concerns about student debt and declining enrollments, growing evidence shows that a college degree still carries significant advantages and is more than just a symbolic achievement.


Skills-based Hiring Isn’t As Common As Headlines Suggest

There is growing buzz that employer interest in the college degree prerequisite is declining. While data shows there are an increasing number of companies removing degree requirements from job postings, there is evidence that hiring decisions still favor college grads.

A 2022 Burning Glass Institute study demonstrates this change. The study found degree requirements for middle-skill jobs were decreasing. However, the report was based on online job postings, not actual hiring decisions. Further analysis found that “employers are hiring more (not less) college grads.”

This may be because of the belief that a college degree not only imparts technical skills but also the ability to adapt and learn in a rapidly changing environment.


The College Wage Premium Remains High

By emphasizing skills-based credentials over college degrees, advocates may be unintentionally harming the people they aim to help while failing to expand economic opportunities. Nowhere is this demonstrated more clearly than the college wage premium.

According to a 2019 analysis by the New York Fed, college graduates earn a median wage premium of over $30,000 compared to those with only a high school diploma.


The Most Successful Will Pursue College Degrees And Skills-based Programs

While alternatives to college degrees and short-term skills-based programs can effectively serve certain students, they do not render degrees obsolete. A comprehensive education that combines targeted skills with broader knowledge remains a strong foundation for success.

In fact, a 2018 National Center for Education Statistics dataset shows 8% of bachelor’s degree holders have obtained a certification compared with just 3% of high school diploma holders. This suggests that degree holders are supplementing their education with skills-based credentials.

While headlines may suggest that the relevance of a college degree is diminishing, a closer look at the data tells a different story. Hiring preferences and the enduring wage premium demonstrate that a college degree is still a good investment. Instead of completely disregarding the pursuit of degrees, a balanced approach that integrates both degrees and skills-based credentials seems to be the optimal path forward in today’s dynamic job market.

Interested in learning more about the value of a college degree? Download our free white paper, “College Is A Good Investment With a Bad Reputation.”