Do You Really Need College-Educated Workers?

Tim Sackett Audacious Ideas, Good HR, Hiring Bias, HR, Recruiting, Tim Sackett

FOT Note: This post comes straight out of the FOT vault. Every now and then, we like to re-run golden nuggets of insight to keep the message alive. What you’re about to read is one of them. 

I’m a huge advocate for formal education. My 3 sons will go to college, or get beat until they go to college. It’s their choice. (That’s why I’m a good parent. I give my kids choices. It empowers them!) I paid my own way through 5 wonderful years of undergrad—go Wyoming! I also paid my own way through 3 not-so-wonderful years of night and weekend classes to finish my masters (Go Chips) while working full time. Besides marrying my wife and having my boys, my education might be the thing I value most in my life.

I will only hire recruiters to my team who have an undergrad degree. We have monthly brown bag lunch-and-learns—my team is so fond of these! I rarely will not give permission to someone on my team to attend additional training, webinars, etc. (Special note to my team: Don’t all of you now start coming in and asking to attend conferences in Vegas, San Diego, etc. I’m just making a point… our lunch and learns work just fine—plus you won’t see any better presenter at those conferences than you already get with me! Heck, I was almost #25 on John Sumser’s most important HR people of all time—allegedly).

Education is important. But does it need to be?

The New Yorker recently had one of the best articles I’ve read all year (Live and Learn: Why We Have College) that looks at why this whole college thing started and asks the question on whether it’s really as valuable as we HR Pros/employers continue to rank it.  Let’s look at some facts from the article:

  • 68% of high school graduates now attend college
  • Avg. Wage by level: Graduate degree: $83K, Undergrad, $58K, High School, $31K (we definitely reward this behavior)
  • Avg. hours per week students in college spend studying: 1960 – 25 hrs, 2010 – 12 hrs
  • Major Studies have shown that after 4 years of college, 36% of students have shown no improvement in their ability to solve problems, think critically, reason and write effectively (but they still get a degree, and you hire them)

There are two theories why we have kids attend college:

1. Society needs a mechanism for sorting out the smart ones from the dumb ones. Thus, making college a 4-year intelligence test.

2. Society is using colleges to socialize our youth in a way to produce like-minded adults (from a socialization aspect) to be prepared to work together in professional settings.

Don’t believe me? Besides professions that need formal training—engineers, doctors, accountants—why do we really need colleges? Does an engineer really need a class on Historical World Literature to be an engineer? Does a Surgeon need a Creative Writing class? No, they don’t. Not long ago in our history, doctors and lawyers didn’t even need an undergrad to get into Medical School or Law School.

Now the real question: Does your Manager of Client Services really need a degree? (Rr your IT Analyst, Benefits Administrator, Accounts Payable Manager, etc.?) It’s hard to find a job description in today’s world that doesn’t require a bachelors degree. I could argue we all would be much better off taking these kids straight out of high school and spending 4 years training them ourselves in the functions we need. I bet those people would be much more valuable to your organization after four years than a new grad fresh out of college!

It’s an interesting question to contemplate as an HR Pro. I tend to justify my need to hire college grads because I think the ability to go through a 4 or 5 year program, finish and get a good GPA shows me a number of things about a person’s ability to finish, stay with something long-term and proves basic book smarts. But, I also believe the type of degree the person holds has very little to do with the success of being a recruiter in my environment. I’ve had English grads outperform business grads, and sociology grads outperform human resource grads. Personality tends to be a bigger factor than almost anything else.

Do you believe you really need all those college grads for your company? Hire a GED this week and run your own test.