In recent years, bachelor’s degrees have gone from giving young professionals a leg up in the job market to being a must-have credential for a wide range of careers, with college graduates taking the vast majority of new jobs created in the US since the end of the Great Recession nearly a decade ago. More recently, however, employers have begun to question whether these degrees are always necessary and dropping degree requirements for some roles.
A tight labor market and talent shortages in high-demand fields are driving this trend further. Last week, the Wall Street Journal highlighted an analysis of 15 million job ads by Burning Glass Technologies, which found that the share of job postings requiring a college degree had fallen from 32 percent to 30 percent between 2017 and the first half of 2018, down from 34 percent in 2012. Work experience requirements are also declining, with only 23 percent of entry-level jobs asking applicants for three years of experience or more, compared to 29 percent in 2012. That means there are an additional 1.2 million jobs accessible to candidates with little or no experience today than a few years ago.
With growing numbers of unfilled jobs, more companies are looking for ways to broaden their talent pool and speed up the rate at which they can fill a role. “Downskilling,” or requiring less work experience and education, is a strategy many companies have opted for to achieve this. One field in which many employers have “downskilled” to broaden their applicant pool is cybersecurity.
Most of the new jobs created in the US in the wake of the Great Recession have gone to workers with college degrees, and the wage premium Americans gain from holding a bachelor’s degree rather than just a high school diploma is higher than it has been in 40 years. Partly due to the higher number of college-educated candidates on the market, a bachelor’s degree has become a baseline requirement for most middle-class jobs. The decline of good jobs for less educated and lower-skilled workers is commonly understood to be a driver of inequality and social stratification in the US today.
A new report published on Tuesday by Harvard Business School, Accenture, and Grads of Life underlines the extent to which “degree inflation”—jobs for which a college degree was once optional and is now a requirement—is compounding this problem. According to the report, 6 million American jobs are at risk of degree inflation, as employers have “defaulted to using college degrees as a proxy for a candidate’s range and depth of skills.”
Axios’ Christopher Matthews discusses the report’s implications with one of its authors:
“This phenomenon is a major driver of income inequality,” Joe Fuller of Harvard Business School tells Axios. “We’re hollowing out middle-class jobs and driving everyone to the extremes of the income spectrum.” …
By at least one measure, Massachusetts has the most educated workforce of any state in the US, according to a new report from the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center. Citing an analysis of Current Population Survey data by the Economic Policy Institute, the report reveals that 50.2 percent of Massachusetts workers hold at least a bachelor’s degree. New Jersey is the second most educated state, with 45.2 percent of workers holding BAs, followed by New York, Maryland, and Connecticut. Nationwide, 35.5 percent of the workforce has a bachelor’s degree.
The report, titled “Education and State Economic Strength: A Snapshot of Current Data,” also notes that these high levels of education correlate with high median hourly wages: $21.35 in New Jersey and $21.22 in Massachusetts compared to a national average of $17.80.
“While it might seem obvious in 2017 that higher levels of college education would be associated with higher earnings at the state level,” the report adds, “this relationship is actually a fairly recent feature of the US economy. In 1979, the correlation between the educational attainment of a state’s workforce and its median hourly wage was weak.”
Indeed, the EPI’s latest research has found that the college wage premium is at an all-time high since economists began measuring it over 40 years ago. Other studies have shown that the class of 2017 stood to earn higher starting salaries than their peers who graduated in other recent years, while holders of two-year associate degrees are also finding more decent-paying jobs than they were a generation ago.
Wages in Massachusetts have also been growing faster for more educated than less educated workers, and a key challenge for the state today is ensuring that young people can afford the advanced educations they need to remain competitive in a highly educated job market, the Boston Globe’s Katie Johnson points out: