Maryland opened up jobs to people without four-year degrees

(NewsNation) — In March of this year, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced that his administration would be removing four-year college degree requirements from thousands of state jobs, a move that’s put more people to work and has drawn consideration across the country.

The goal was to offer more opportunities to STARs, people who were Skilled Through Alternative Routes. STARs are typically people at least 25 years old who are part of the current workforce after having obtained a high school diploma and then gained skills on the job, in community college, through service in the military, or other similar experiences.

“Through these efforts we are launching today, we are ensuring that qualified, nondegree candidates are regularly being considered for these career-changing opportunities,” Hogan said in his announcement.

Months later, the number of STARs the state employs has increased considerably. Between May and August of this year, the state hired 1,836 people who didn’t have four-year degrees, a 41% year-over-year increase, according to Joseph Farren, chief strategy officer in the Maryland labor secretary’s office. Many of those workers were hired in the IT, customer service, and administrative fields.

“This marks what we think is a very impressive increase in the hiring of STARs,” Farren said.

Maryland’s decision to open up more state jobs to people without four-year college degrees is part of a growing movement across the country to tackle what is called “degree inflation,” when employers add four-year college degree requirements to jobs that historically haven’t had those requirements.

Manjari Raman, the program director of the Project on Managing the Future of Work at Harvard Business School, spent years researching degree inflation.

In 2015, her team looked at job postings for common jobs like executive assistants and found that they often asked for a four-year college degree even when most people currently working those jobs didn’t have them.

“We found that a majority, like 70% of the executive assistants in 2015, did not have a four-year college degree. But 80% of the job postings for an executive assistant in 2015 asked for (a four-year college degree),” Raman said.

Raman and other researchers found degree inflation happening all over the economy. One explanation for that inflation is that many jobs have become more complicated over time, she said. Executive assistants, for instance, are increasingly expected to use computer applications that didn’t exist decades ago.

“So employers started using a four-year college degree as a proxy” for all those skills, said Raman.

Degree inflation has led to several problems. Sixty-two percent of Americans over age 25 don’t have bachelor’s degrees and are walled off from jobs with four-year requirements.

Plus, it can lead people with four-year degrees into jobs where it’s unneeded, sometimes leading to high turnover. Raman gave the example of a barista with a college degree.

“They don’t really want to be a barista. They want to be the assistant manager of that Starbucks,” she said.

Raman conceded there are some jobs where adding degree requirements may be justified thanks to the increasing complexity of those fields.

“I think nursing is one of those cases where nursing jobs have become so more sophisticated and complicated,” she said.

Many employers have been taking it upon themselves over the past few years to reexamine their job requirements. A recent report by the Burning Glass Institute found that many employers are now experiencing “degree reset,” where they are removing degree requirements from jobs.

For example, tech company IBM announced last year that it had eliminated bachelor’s degree requirements from around half of its job openings. The Burning Glass Institute report estimates that based on the current trend, “an additional 1.4 million jobs could open to workers without college degrees over the next five years.”

Other states may soon be joining Maryland in combating degree inflation. Pennsylvania Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro campaigned on removing degree requirements from many state jobs.

“Eliminating the college degree requirements for thousands of state government jobs is a key part of Gov.-elect Shapiro’s vision for a Pennsylvania where working people can get ahead, whether they went to college or not,” said Manuel Broder, a spokesperson for Shapiro’s campaign.

In Maryland, Farren has been pleased with the results so far.

“I think many HR people would tell you that the non-degree candidates are hungrier, that they have something to prove and they are willing to go above and beyond,” he said.

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