Giving degrees the third degree

I recently came across this article about a woman who had lied on her resume about her education. Of course lying about such things is not ethical or wise—but I think this is an excellent opportunity to look at the misplaced emphasis our society has on college degrees.

job-descriptionAccording to the article, she did her job quite well and was well-liked and respected. She made significant improvements and added value to her workplace for almost thirty years. So, does that one lie mean more than her good work?

Many organizations automatically require a four-year degree for every job (even the ones paying minimum or near-minimum wage), often for no particular reason. There have been jobs I’ve been disqualified from despite having the exact work experience needed, simply because I didn’t have a bachelor’s degree. I can understand the temptation to lie, the frustration of not being able to get your foot in the door despite your qualifications.

Requiring college degrees bolsters inequity and discrimination. Think about who does and doesn’t have access to college. For instance, we know that abuse is a huge disruptor to domestic violence victims’ lives, including their attempts at education or getting a better job. Abusers may actively sabotage victims’ efforts to study or attend classes. And for victims who’ve had to take the extreme measure of obtaining a new identity, they may not be able to even acknowledge college degrees, if they have them.

My friend Laura Pritchard Wirkman runs Sharehouse (it’s like a food bank, but for furniture and household items) so job access and economic justice are already on her radar. She’s managed to revise the job descriptions there: “I try to talk to other management-types about this as much as possible and always encourage them to question the education requirement for any position,” she says. “If it’s not a specialized position that literally necessitates a degree or license, then the next question should always be: ‘Does direct or related experience make up for (or even outweigh) a degree?’”

If you have any authority over job descriptions at your workplace, talk with your colleagues about your standard requirements. Look at each job and actually think about whether applicants need to have a four-year degree. You could be weeding out qualified candidates and inadvertently discriminating against domestic violence victims and other marginalized groups of people.

1 thought on “Giving degrees the third degree”

  1. Thank you so much for this post! I defaulted on one of my loans from Cornish when I was shot in 2010, which disqualified my FAFSA when I tried to go back and finish my degree! Credit checks should be abolished too!

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