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The Feds Rethink Their Educational Requirements

Last month, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) issued updated guidance to federal agencies on skill-based hiring. On the surface, that sounds promising, but for community colleges, it may not be. Skill-based hiring focuses less on educational requirements and more on skills and experience.

That guidance effectively diminishes the need for a post-secondary degree for employees in certain roles. The federal government is not the only employer to re-evaluate the need for college degrees. Increasingly, employers nationwide are rethinking the educational requirements workers need to fill specific roles. The move will also encourage state and local governments to re-examine their hiring requirements.

This is happening, in part, because employers are increasingly desperate to find workers to fill their open positions. It’s also happening because educational requirements increase the cost of hiring, and in some cases, set up a barrier to otherwise qualified employees. Eliminating educational requirements can also lower recruiting and retention costs.

There are still plenty of jobs that agencies won’t fill unless the candidate has the requisite combination of education and experience. In other words, federal agencies aren’t eliminating college degree requirements, but the new approach will stratify the hiring pool.

The move to strip out educational requirements traces back to the Trump Administration. While the administration may have aimed the move at four-year institutions, it will also impact two-year schools.

Removing educational requirements will hurt two-year colleges

None of this is good for higher education institutions. It is the culmination of a concerted political effort to undermine the economic value of college degrees. The Trump Administration is not alone in this effort. In the past 10 years, WCC has transformed itself from a two-year degree granting institution into a certificate school. Certificate schools, as defined by the US Department of Education, are those that primarily issue sub-one-year certificates.

Think truck driving schools and cosmetology programs. WCC now falls into the same category as those schools do.

The WCC Administration will argue that it is merely providing what employers and students want. However, employers are crying for educated workers, not minimally trained ones. And according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers aren’t exactly lining up to take the minimum wage jobs that certificates prepare them for.

Analysis of the value of certificates shows that more than 40% of them provide absolutely no economic benefit to the earner.


They are literally not worth the paper they are printed on. But schools like WCC keep churning them out to the detriment of pretty much everyone. In the grand scheme of things, pushing economically non-viable credentials simply reinforces the idea that a post-secondary education is unnecessary.

It’s not a good message to send, but it will be hard to overcome once that sentiment is strongly established. For a growing list of employers, the message has already been received.

Photo Credit: Michael Coughlan , via Flickr