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Is a Bachelor’s Degree the New High School Diploma? Some Employers Think So

More employers are requiring a college educationCollege. The institution without which we would be robbed of classics like National Lampoon’s Animal House, Old School, Revenge of the Nerds, Tommy Boy, and Real Genius (which filled many of us with the false notion that ice parties are a regular college event). College isn’t just about fraternity shenanigans, campus streaking, and nerd victories, though — many believe a college education isn’t just a nice-to-have in today’s workforce, but a necessity.

In fact, many employers are now skimming right past those who have only completed a high school education in favor of candidates who’ve walked the hallowed halls of higher education institutions.

“Oh, sure, for high-skill positions? That makes sense,” you might be thinking. Actually, no — employers are actively seeking out college grads not only for high skill positions, but also for lower-skill jobs and entry-level positions, in industries as diverse as manufacturing and IT.

Suddenly, college seems like more of a necessity than ever.

Nearly a third (32 percent) of hiring managers and HR professionals said they’re hiring more employees with college degrees for positions historically held by high school graduates, according to a new survey by CareerBuilder and Harris Interactive© among 2,611 hiring managers and HR professionals. While we’re seeing this trend most frequently among financial services organizations, it spans across many industries, including:

  • Financial Services – 53 percent
  • Health Care – 40 percent
  • Manufacturing – 38 percent
  • Transportation & Utilities – 37 percent
  • Information Technology – 33 percent
  • Professional & Business Services – 31 percent
  • Retail – 28 percent
  • Hospitality – 20 percent

Education requirements are getting more strict

Specific qualifications for jobs are also becoming more demanding. Nearly 1 in 5 employers (18 percent) said they’ve increased their educational requirements for jobs over the last five years. Manufacturing and information technology firms — at 30 percent and 27 percent respectively — were the most likely to report this.

More than half of employers (54 percent) reported that they require an associate’s degree or higher for their positions; 44 percent require a four-year degree or higher.

Getting ahead

The lack of a college education may not only be an obstacle for candidates seeking a job, but also for employees trying to get ahead at their place of employment. Our survey found that not having a college degree may limit upward mobility: 37 percent of employers said they are unlikely to promote someone without a college degree.

Brent Rasmussen, President of CareerBuilder North America, says this trend may be partially attributed to a competitive job market, which is causing many college grads to take jobs below their skill level, but that “it also speaks to companies raising performance expectations for roles within their firms to enhance overall productivity, product quality and sales.”

As the bar’s being raised when it comes to education requirements in the workforce, are employers seeing a difference in their results?

The positive effects of college-level labor

Most employers who have hired more workers with college degrees for jobs historically held by high school graduates reported positive effects on their business effects, like:

  • Higher quality of work – 64 percent
  • Productivity – 45 percent
  • Revenue – 22 percent
  • Customer Loyalty – 18 percent

Of course, they’re probably not hiring employees like this.

What do you think about these findings? Has your business recently changed its requirements when it comes to education?

Amy K. McDonnell

About Amy K. McDonnell

Originally hailing from Ohio, Amy is the editorial manager on the content services team and has been with both CareerBuilder and the city of Chicago for nearly a decade. She writes on a range of recruitment topics on The Hiring Site, striving to bring a dose of clarity and humor to sometimes complicated issues around employee attraction, engagement and retention. When she's not working, Amy spends as much time as possible reading, pretending to be a chef, writing short stories, eating Nutella out of the jar, waiting for CTA buses and trains, going to see her favorite bands live, and spending time with people who inspire and challenge her.


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