You may have heard recently that at least 14 large employers (including Apple, IBM, and Google), have dropped four-year degree requirements. As a result of that article, I witnessed a social media frenzy with thousands of tweets and praise for the move, but others also sharing skepticism that this was the end of the degree.

So what does this mean for Lumina and others pushing to substantially raise attainment levels in the next few years? If you look below the surface of these announcements to drop the four-year degree, you will see that employers are not abandoning requirements for credentials earned after high school completely, especially for middle skills jobs. The skills that employers are identifying for family-sustaining jobs are still at the level of learning beyond a high school diploma and still require credentials such as associate degrees, certifications and/or certificates.

For many companies, skills-based hiring is proving to be a successful way to recruit new talent. But this doesn’t mean employers are not using credentials, and most still find that credentials are the best way to signal the bundle of skills and competencies needed. After some companies have implemented skills-based hiring practices, they have right-sized their credential requirements.

Many times the degree is still the credential of choice, however, at least one company found it was recruiting for the wrong skills by hiring for computer science majors when it should have been looking for philosophy majors. Similarly, companies have found some jobs really required skills from an associate degree rather than a four-year degree.

Lumina is enthusiastic about the movement for skills-based, credential hiring practices because it is important for employers to send a clearer and better signal about the skills and competencies needed to do a job. We’ve been in this space as far back as supporting Tuning to help education and training providers understand the skills and competencies employers are looking for in order to make sure credentials result in employability. Recent projects such as Credential EngineJob Data Exchange and T3 Innovation Network take this work to a new level to create real-time information on the skills and competencies in credentials and job descriptions using new technologies such as web-based open, linked-data.

While some may speculate that degrees will go away, research about the long-term stability for people in a fluctuating job market tells us that credentials beyond high school still matter, especially for family-sustaining jobs. And, to close gaps in economic opportunity in this country we must continue our work to close attainment gaps for African-Americans, Latinos, and American Indians.

To answer the question, “do degrees still matter?”

Yes, 4-year degrees still matter. As do associates degrees, certificates and certifications. This is the new credential marketplace where it is no longer a forced choice between a 4-year degree or no degree. In reality, we know the majority of Americans will need high-quality learning and credentials.

Back to News