Higher education is starting to get a cold shoulder from the private sector, could this be the needed catalyst for reform?

Common wisdom says you need a college degree to launch a decent career, but a number of high-profile employers are deemphasizing the importance of a degree in their hiring processes.

Big Ripples from the Other Side of the Pond

GenFKD recently discussed how young workers are forced into a higher education trap, paying increasing costs for an education with decreasing returns. Thankfully, it seems cash poor millennials with daily nightmares of the Student Debt Monster aren’t the only ones to realize the system is broken.

"College degrees are deemphasized in favor of a more holistic review of the applicant’s qualifications."

Recently, major UK firms including Deloitte, Ernst & Young and Penguin Random House have all announced major changes to their hiring criteria, in which college degrees are deemphasized in favor of a more holistic review of the applicant’s qualifications.

Ernst & Young, a veritable hive of nerdom, kicked things off in the summer with a dramatic change in its hiring process. The company does still review a candidate’s education history, but it loosened the strict academic standards that previously served as an immediate barrier to applying.

Here’s how Maggie Stilwell, Managing Partner for Talent, explained the change:

Our own internal research of over 400 graduates found that screening students based on academic performance alone was too blunt an approach to recruitment. It found no evidence to conclude that previous success in higher education correlated with future success in subsequent professional qualifications undertaken.

Not long after E&Y’s change, Deloitte, another well-respected employer of eggheads, followed suit with a similar change to its hiring strategy. Building upon E&Y’s sentiment, Deloitte switched up its onboarding process, preventing recruiters from seeing where candidates attended school. The company even went so far as to create its own algorithm that tries to adjust for various privileges or hurdles in a candidates’ background.

Companies should “hire people who think and innovate differently, come from a variety of backgrounds and bring a range of perspectives,” according to David Sproul, Deloitte UK senior partner and chief executive.

Perhaps the most drastic change came from Penguin Random House, which scrapped the college degree requirement altogether. A degree was probably always less important for industries reliant on qualitative as opposed to quantitative skills (does J.K. Rowling having a degree increase book sales?), but it’s still interesting to see a major publishing house make the change.

“We believe this is critical to our future – to publish the best books that appeal to readers everywhere, we need to have people from different backgrounds with different perspectives and a workforce that truly reflects today’s society,” said Human Resources Director Neil Morrison.

American Inspiration

While the firms making these changes may be based in the United Kingdom, there is reason to be optimistic that a more nuanced hiring approach will reverberate back in the States, especially since we kind of pioneered it.

For several years now, Google has been keenly aware of the flaws and failures in the standard hiring process after running tons of nerdgasmic internal studies.

In a famous interview with the New York Times back in 2013, Google exec Laszlo Bock opened up on the company’s realization that their recruitment system was all over the map.

“One of the things we’ve seen … is that G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring…Google famously used to ask everyone for a transcript and G.P.A.’s and test scores, but we don’t anymore unless you’re just a few years out of school. We found that they don’t prove anything,” Bock revealed.

Bock went on to give some insight into Google’s current workforce.

“What’s interesting is the proportion of people without any college education at Google has increased over time as well. So we have teams where you have 14 percent of the team made up of people who’ve never gone to college,” he said.

Yeah, the most valuable company in the world is happily hiring folks without degrees.

Our Take

Obviously college has its perks. Beyond occasionally learning about some pretty cool stuff, it’s an important step in transitioning to adulthood (ha!) for many young people.

But considering the insane cost of a degree, it’d be a whole lot better if your education actually gave you the skills necessary to succeed in the new economy – a brewing crisis according to the World Economic Forum.

Even worse, some studies claim that higher education is essentially entrenching socio-economic inequalities, with elite universities disproportionately graduating students “from the most affluent backgrounds.”

Clearly, our higher education system is failing in some of its core duties and the devaluation of degrees by the private sector could be the catalyst we need to see crucial reform.


Posted 02.03.2016 - 06:30 pm EDT