The Pros and Cons of Mandating College Degrees for Employment

There’s a growing trend for companies to do away with mandatory bachelor’s degrees for employees. While higher education is more critical for certain roles (think nursing or engineering) is it necessary to require degrees for roles such as a project manager or salesperson?

The short answer is it depends how you think about it.

Pros of hiring people with college degrees:

Their ability to think differently – In a recent Korn Ferry survey of professionals, 69 percent said the No. 1 way their college experience helped them was to increase their ability to think critically. That philosophy class you took your sophomore year?  While you may have struggled at the time to understand the real-world relevance – there’s a good chance it actually helped you prepare to think through complex issues on-the-job. When hiring for roles that need agility and strong problem-solving skills, a good question to ask candidates may be how they will use the broad learnings of their college education to be more effective in their new role.

Their experience with teamwork – Everyone has a story from college where an underperformer on a team project put more responsibility on everyone else. How individuals handled that interpersonal conflict and perhaps came up with creative ways to encourage everyone to participate is a valuable skill to bring to a corporate environment. These experiences also help employees be better people managers and give them the ability to better manage projects and time spent.

Their work ethic – Getting a college degree requires hard work, tenacity and the ability to meet an end goal. In addition, while many courses are enjoyable, there are always a few classes that we simply endure to meet a requirement. Same goes for most jobs. Sometimes we are faced with less than enjoyable tasks, but those who can focus and accomplish those tasks will be the employees that succeed.  

Cons of Mandating College Degrees

In the Korn Ferry survey, 68 percent of professionals say a college degree is more important today than it was when they first hit the job market. However, they were split 50/50 on whether companies should mandate a bachelor’s degree for employees:

Here are some reasons why requiring a degree may not always be the best option:

You could be missing out on top talent – There are many reasons candidates don’t obtain college degrees - from the cost of tuition to the need to take care of a loved one. It’s important to look at the individual’s attributes, drivers and work/life experiences to determine if they have the aptitude for a given role.

Certifications can prepare talent for key positions – Some people know exactly what they want to do – be it an IT specialist or project manager. They may have bypassed the expensive and lengthy college degree path and opted for a certification to get the skills they need.  

Your company’s training program might be the best way to prepare employees – Many organizations, even professional service firms, have created in-depth training programs to prepare new hires for the direct role they will be taking. These programs help employees not only with the technical skills they may need – they help introduce the new employee to your culture.


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