For years, the trend has been that employers require college degrees for even their entry-level jobs. This trend has been driven by many factors, including the increasing complexity of the workplace and the belief that a college degree is necessary to demonstrate a certain level of skill and knowledge.
However, there are several reasons why requiring everyone to have a college degree is senseless. The near impossibility of sending everyone to college is one glaring reason. There are not enough spots for everyone to attend, and the cost of college is prohibitive for many people. Another is that not everyone needs a college degree to succeed in the workforce. There are many high-paying jobs that do not require a college degree; so many that people who have college degrees often find themselves underemployed. Also, an unexpected consequence of insisting that everyone have a college degree is that it would expand a dividing line in our society, increasing the advantage for those who have degrees over those who do not.
There are alternatives to asking that everyone pursue a four-year degree. One alternative is to focus on providing high-quality vocational training. Vocational training programs teach people the skills they need to succeed in specific occupations, and they can be much more affordable than the traditional four-year degrees. Eliminating the hours required in a core curriculum and concentrating on skill development can significantly reduce both costs as well as the time between graduation from high school and entering the workforce. Another alternative is to create more apprenticeship programs. Apprenticeship programs allow people to learn on the job while earning a wage. For the potential employee, this can be a great way to get a foot in the door of a high-paying career. For the potential employer, taking on an apprentice can serve as a probationary step toward offering full-time employment.
If our focus continues to be squarely on the traditional, four-year college degree, we are ignoring the diversity of human talent and experience. But if we explore our alternatives, we can create a more equitable society where everyone has the opportunity to succeed, regardless of their educational background.