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College Degrees Are Overrated

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New York Times, October 2021

Recruiters are insisting on college degrees for jobs that don’t need them. Why? Risk aversion. If recruiters recommend a non-graduate who doesn’t work out, they’ll get blamed. Whereas, if they reject a non-graduate who would have been a huge success—well, no one will ever know, will they? It’s a costly but undetectable mistake.

Byron Auguste has co-founded a nonprofit organization, Opportunity@Work, whose purpose is to give a leg up to people he calls STARs, short for “skilled through alternative routes.” I interviewed him recently. He told me that he’s haunted by the invisible tragedy of successful careers that never happen because applicants without college degrees aren’t given a chance. It affects first-time job-seekers, those stuck in dead-end careers, and older victims of layoffs who no longer qualify for the jobs they landed at a more forgiving time. “It’s a pretty dysfunctional market in a lot of ways,” he says. “You’re not just giving extra weight to a bachelor’s. You’re insisting on it. And there’s no way to even learn what you’re missing. That’s why you can keep making this mistake over and over.”

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