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  • Writer's pictureLarry Washington

The Degree Dilemma

As someone who hires and manages employees in the communications world, I’ve run into the “Degree Dilemma” more than a few times. I’ve been both rewarded and burned by using educational credentials as a tie-breaker and, long ago, have come to question the value of how we view “proper” education. As a focus group of one, I hire mainly based on a candidate’s portfolio and interview, so holding a certain type of degree is way down the list of important credentials for me.

America’s growing educational trend

In the last two years, I’ve seen the thought of a standard four-year degree losing value increasing across different industries. This is especially prevalent when it comes to hiring practices for industries that have a steep, on-the-job learning curve. Industries like creative communication and tech especially value ability above education. Some tech companies are plucking talent out of high school and educating them in-house. Trade industries, of course, have been in this mindset for a long time focusing on capability, not possibility. This growing trend shows that we’re entering a “prove-it” era in our country that places a higher level of importance on people who can execute in the real world rather than speculate successfully in a make-believe one. It’s why industry focused schools in the communications, trade and tech categories have exploded in number and popularity in the last decade.

This article in the Harvard Business Review from 2014 lent one of the early voices to this thinking and is still right on the money today: “The Degree is Dead.”

Dust covered thinking

The mindset of the U.S. has been stuck in an antiquated line of thinking, unwittingly championing the idea that something must be wrong with you if you went to a tech school or started working right out of high school. It’s becoming clear, though, that the country’s mindset is slowly beginning to break free of that old-school thought. There are so many possibilities that foster individual growth today through education but we have lost our way by discounting many of these in favor of a boxed solution that’s supposed to work for everyone.

Thanks to the efforts of people like Mike Rowe and his mikeroweWORKS Foundation and many other organizations like TechForce Foundation, the American mindset toward the four-year degree is shifting steadily in a positive direction.

A sustainable economy must value all skill sets

To sustain ourselves economically and grow as a country we must shine an equally powerful spotlight on success pathways that break the college mold. Everyone learns differently and everyone has individual talents that need to be properly fostered. For many, a standard four year degree isn’t the answer. A modern and equal society should be able to see the value in every skill set and offer the options needed to carve a pathway to success.


So, what is the value of a degree these days?

What else do you think we can do to help everyone tap their full potential?

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