The 4-Year Degree Rule for Jobs Is Changing

With labor tight, scrapping the college grad requirement nets more applicants—and higher quality ones.

November 29, 2022

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—More employers are eliminating the requirement for a college degree, including Google, Delta Airlines, IBM and the state of Maryland, reports the Wall Street Journal.

According to the Burning Glass Institute, a think tank that studies the future of work, college degree requirements dropped early in the pandemic and are still not back to pre-pandemic levels. Forty-one percent of job postings in the U.S. required at least a four-year degree, down from 46% at the beginning of 2019.

Employers need workers, as the labor market is still tight. Unemployment is low, and there are more job openings than there are workers—close to two jobs open for every available unemployed worker.

Google offers an online college-alternative program that will train workers in “fast-growing” fields, such as digital marketing and project management, and over 100,000 people have gone through the program. Now, Google and 150 other companies are using the program to hire entry-level employees.

Most of IBM’s U.S. jobs don’t require a four-year degree anymore, and Delta said a four-year degree for pilots was preferred instead of required. Walmart says 75% of its salaried store management employees began their career as hourly workers.

“We don’t require degrees for most of our jobs in the field and increasingly in the home office as well,” Kathleen McLaughlin, Walmart executive vice president, said at an online event this fall. The company’s goal is to shift the “focus from the way someone got their skills, which is the degree, to what skills do they have.”

The state of Maryland decided to review the college-degree requirements for every state job in March, and six months later, Maryland officials said the program is showing early signs of working as intended, reports the Journal. The number of state employees hired without a four-year degree from May to August is up 41% from a year before, while the number of all employees hired is up 14%.

Maryland partnered with Opportunity@Work, a nonprofit that wants to cut degree requirements, on the initiative, and Bridgette Gray, the company’s chief customer officer, told the Journal that there are around 70 million Americans over the age of 25 who are in the workforce today and don’t have a college degree. Around four million are already in high-wage careers.

“College is a clear pathway to upward mobility, but it shouldn’t be the only pathway,” she said.

“We basically had a need for more applicants,” Mark Townend, who recruits for Maryland’s state jobs, told the Journal. “There is a large population of nondegree candidates who are good for our jobs.”

Townend and his team are combing through close to 2,500 job classifications and rewriting them. Philip Deitchman, director of human resources for Maryland’s Department of Juvenile Services, told the Journal he used to decline job candidates just because they didn’t meet the strictly defined requirements of the job.

“We would say, ‘Wow we want this person,’ but they didn’t have a college degree,” he said. “I’m passing up someone really good.”

The change has allowed for more and higher quality applicants, he told the Journal.

“I would rather have someone with experience,” he said. “It’s just something that should have been done years ago.”

The U.S. convenience store industry employs an estimated 2.38 million people. A previous NACS consumer survey found that more than one in seven Americans (15%) said they had worked in a convenience store. Of those current and former workers, 79% said their job experience was valuable, and 66% said they would recommend that type of work to others, particularly as a first job.

Also, 74% of c-store customers say that convenience store jobs are good jobs for those who can’t or don’t want to get a traditional education.

NACS has partnered with The Good Jobs Institute on how c-store operators can provide “good jobs,” which meet people’s basic needs and offer conditions for engagement and motivation. The Good Jobs Calculator, designed exclusively for NACS members and the convenience industry, allows retailers to use their own data and customized assumptions about the amount of improvement or uplift achievable, enabling executives to run scenarios on the bottom-line impact of a Good Jobs system.