Although the Biden Administration has long made free community college a talking point, there’s another (related) point that’s starting to get some attention. “Free degree” is slowly becoming “degree-free.” The Administration is also quietly pushing the notion that most jobs don’t require a college degree.
Former president Barack Obama recently picked up on the degree-free riff by tweeting his support for bringing an end to “degree inflation.” Degree inflation occurs when employers require applicants to have a college degree even when a degree isn’t necessary for the job.
The Biden Administration apparently agrees. During his most recent State of the Union address, President Biden acknowledged manufacturing investments and pointed out that many new factories offer substantial salaries for workers without requiring a college degree.
While that seems to contradict the Administration’s desire to promote free community college, the degree-free approach to recruiting new employees is gaining traction. At least a dozen states have dropped their degree requirements for open positions, including Michigan.
So, what is the strategy when the President of the United States says that college degrees aren’t necessary for the majority of the jobs? While there is no doubt that employers have -sometimes without thinking – list a college degree as a requirement for their open position, the degree requirement likely reflects the employer’s desire to hire someone with more formal education.
When it’s an employer’s market, that works. Lately, it hasn’t been an employer’s market and isn’t likely to return to one anytime soon. Record-low unemployment, coupled with the steady retirement of the Baby Boomers mean that employers can’t afford to be choosy. Employers have found that throwing up barriers like specific degree requirements is a good way to ensure that they don’t get responses to job postings.
Increased competition for the college degree
So, what does a college do in the face of a lot of support for not needing its primary product? One of the basic responses should be to seriously improve the college degrees they do offer. Occupations that require a college education are still around, so it makes sense to focus on them.
This includes vocational and occupational education programs, where degrees and licenses are mandated by law or professional standards. It also means focusing on relatively new fields that are in high demand. This includes clean energy production, healthcare occupations, advanced manufacturing, and skilled trades.
It’s hard to eliminate the requirements for professions that require hands-on skills. So, when the President of the United States encourages employers to drop their college degree requirements, perhaps it’s time to refocus on occupational education.
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