You Still Need a College Degree

Kids still need to go to college – but not for the reasons they’ve been told.

It’s not because they’ll learn the skills necessary to secure a successful career in a line of work you will find interesting and rewarding.

It’s not because they’ll emerge with an extensive network of professionals eager to help them get on their feet.

Sadly, the only reason they need to go to college is because a college degree has become the baseline qualification for most professional jobs these days.

It doesn’t matter if they major in psychology, history, or pig Latin – so long as they don’t come out with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, they automatically meet the basic requirements for a job in client success, sales, operations, or marketing. And if, like many of my friends, they do earn a BFA, the only jobs you’re qualified for include making coffee, waiting tables, and tending bar.

Regardless of degree or field of study, however, the problem many college graduates are running into is that the sheer number of people with bachelor’s degrees has rendered them about as valuable as the paper they’re printed on. In exchange for taking out tens of thousands of dollars in student loans (unless you’re lucky enough to have parents able to pay the way), pretty much anyone these days can secure what has quickly become the most expensive commodity in the professional world.

As I see it, this isn’t likely to change … at least until two things happen:

  1. We need to get better at assessing talent. I’ve written about this before, and I have a feeling I’ll be standing on this soapbox for years to come. For all this talk about talent shortages and a lack of qualified candidates, I firmly believe both are the result of years of poor candidate assessment practices. As reported in BHG’s State of Talent Acquisition report released earlier this year, 78% of companies rated their talent acquisition efforts as less than highly effective. The primary function of candidate assessments at these organizations isn’t gauging culture fit or identifying high potentials – it’s screening. Until more effective assessment practices like behavioral assessments become commonplace, it’s unlikely these numbers will change.
  2. We need to get better at finding talent. Sourcing has become one of the primary functions of recruiters today – especially in tech. Demand for tools that can support efforts to find and engage top talent has powered a renaissance of sourcing technology in recent years. But for all the cool new technologies hitting the market – high-powered search engines, robust candidate relationship management systems, etc. – the majority of recruiters are still wrapping their heads around the idea that a four-year degree isn’t a qualification. While my colleague Madeline Laurano, in her accompanying blog, is correct in pointing out that not everyone is a Zuckerberg, recruiters at some of the most innovative organizations (e.g. Google) are favoring skills over diplomas – a novel concept.

I’m at #SHRM14 this week with BHG colleagues Trish McFarlane and Ben Eubanks, and I’ve already had a few conversations about this topic. Many HR leaders are opening their minds to the fact that we can’t keep doing things the way they’ve always been done. We’ll see how many are able to turn the conversation into action.

Kyle Lagunas, Talent Acquisition Analyst, Brandon Hall Group

Kyle Lagunas

As the Talent Acquisition Analyst at Brandon Hall Group, Kyle heads up research in key practices in sourcing, assessing, hiring, and onboarding - as well recruitment marketing, candidate experience, and social recruiting. Through primary research and deep analysis, he keeps today's business leaders in touch with important conversations and emerging trends in the rapidly changing world of talent. Kyle has spent the last several years offering a fresh take on the role of technology as part of an integrated talent strategy, and focuses on providing actionable insights to keep leading organizations a step ahead. Previously the HR Analyst at Software Advice, he is regular contributor on SHRM's We Know Next and TLNT, and his work has been featured in Forbes, The New York Times, Business Insider, Information Weekly, and HRO Today.