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Gen Z and Employers Agree It’s Time to Think Outside the College Degree. So What’s Holding Them Back?

College Degree


From record-high worker shortages to a potential recession, the economic landscape remains a volatile one in the wake of the pandemic. Exacerbating these challenges is the antiquated idea that the traditional four-year college degree is the only path to success. This narrow view has prevented generations of students from exploring all of their options. It is driving many of the hiring pipeline issues employers face today.


As our country continues to grapple with these challenges, companies are expanding their talent pools by dropping four-year degree mandates. Apple, Google, General Motors, Netflix, IBM, and even the state government of Maryland are all on this list.


Presidential administrations on both sides of the political aisle have championed this kind of shift to hiring based on skills rather than degrees. While talent shortages have accelerated this transition, too few companies have dropped degree requirements — as an initial step in the process of modernizing their hiring practices — to meet current labor force demands. More than 40% of all job openings still require a college degree, especially within the highest-paying and fastest-growing industries.


At the same time, Gen Z is increasingly skeptical of the high school-to-college route and desires more flexible postsecondary education pathways. This is the reason why the british international school singapore is approaching this change differently with a revised curriculum. In the spring of 2022, there were 662,000 fewer students enrolled in undergraduate programs compared to the previous year, and a recent study found that just 53% of today’s high schoolers say they are likely to attend college.

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Amid all these developments, the views of both employers and prospective employees are evolving rapidly. In fact, a recent study commissioned by American Student Assistance and Jobs for the Future and conducted by Morning Consult found that 81% of employers now think they should look at skills rather than degrees when hiring. That same study reported that nearly 60% of Gen Z students believe companies should hire more high school graduates who have pursued non-degree pathways.


Growing numbers of young people are looking for opportunities that lead to meaningful careers that don’t require a degree. But the majority of young adults still fear there is too much risk associated with choosing a non-degree option. In reality, the riskiest approach of all might actually be settling for the status quo. The outdated dependence on the degree as the sole proxy for educational and professional worth shuts workers who are otherwise qualified, willing and available out of economic opportunity.


Yet, according to the Morning Consult survey, 65% of Gen Z say they will likely default to a two- or four-year degree because they are “worried about choosing the wrong education pathway,” and 52% of employers continue to hire from degree programs because they believe it is a less risky choice. This perceived risk drives both groups toward a known option without considering other possibilities. Without accessible information on the value and quality of paths besides traditional degree programs (as well as of degrees themselves), it is no surprise that a “college or bust” mindset prevails and that so many young workers remain hesitant to consider options other than traditional degree programs.

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The good news is that dynamic, quality non-college options that lead to promising and rewarding careers do exist — but Gen Z and employers alike need more support navigating them. Today’s learners and hiring managers find themselves sorting through nearly 1 million unique credentials that exist in the United States. These international school singapore include traditional degrees from community colleges and four-year universities; stackable degree programs that include certificates, high school diplomas, badges, licenses, and micro-credentials; and apprenticeships offered from a wide range of non-academic providers.


If students and employers have standardized ways to vet, rank and determine a pathway’s quality and how it aligns with long-term career or talent goals, both will be better equipped to look beyond the college degree as a signal for qualifications. This will require colleges, employers, and policymakers to develop a much more sophisticated collective understanding of the non-degree credentials landscape.


This will also take sustained action and change by employers. Companies can have an impact today by proactively helping young people without degrees get in the door of organizations and gain the skills necessary for workplace success. At a time when the number of unfilled jobs remains high and talent is in short supply, employers are taking matters into their own hands — ramping up investments in company-sponsored apprenticeships and work-based learning programs. These sorts of efforts can open up job opportunities for career progression to a broader and more diverse segment of our nation, something that will benefit employees and employers alike.


It is time to end the stigma around options besides college and foster widespread understanding and acceptance of the full range of viable pathways to career success. To this end, we have to provide the next generation of talent with a complete and transparent accounting of the options they have for achieving financial independence and economic advancement.

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Jean Eddy, president and CEO, American Student Assistance (ASA); and Maria Flynn, president and CEO, Jobs for the Future (JFF)


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