Non-Degree Pathways

Amplifying High Quality, Non-Degree Pathways

Contributions by Julie Lammers

Across the nation, employers are collaborating with higher education systems to help solve the employer pipeline issue. But is it enough? With postsecondary enrollment down and only 53%* of kids likely to go to college, should employers change their mindset about requiring degrees? What’s replacing the candidate quality assurance if not a degree?

During recent panel discussions at ASU+GSV Summit in San Diego and SXSW EDU Conference in Austin, I had the opportunity to participate in several highly informative and engaging discussions on the perceptions of high-quality, non-degree paths, the evolving narrative around postsecondary paths, how to ensure the quality and efficacy of these options, help students and families navigate them, and the role of employers in advancing equitable access to opportunity for learners and workers.

Distinguished panelists included Maria Flynn President & CEO, Jobs for the Future (JFF); Roberto Rodriguez Assistant Secretary for Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development, U.S. Dept. of Education; and Rahul Choudaha, Ph.D. Managing Director, Client Services, Morning Consult; David Soo Chief of Staff, Jobs for the Future (JFF); Ryan Craig Managing Director, Achieve Partners; Jason A. Tyszko Vice President, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation; and Pat Leonard Vice President, Strategic Partner and Business Development, Credly.

Below are key takeaways from the panel discussions.

Perceptions of multiple postsecondary pathways: The conversations highlighted topline findings of a recent Morning Consult research survey of Gen Z teens and employers on non-degree pathways, which showed that 81% of employers believe organizations should hire based on skills rather than degrees, and 74% of Gen Z say they want to learn skills that prepare them for jobs that will be in demand in the future. However, while there’s increased awareness of the breadth of postsecondary education options, a gap remains between understanding the options and willingness to participate or take action on these options. For instance, 54% of employers say it’s less risky to hire someone with a college degree, and 65% of Gen Z say they are “worried about choosing the wrong education pathway. Evidently, for both employers and Gen-Z, the risk of making the wrong choice—either because they don’t understand what the options are or don’t understand the value of the credentials they might provide—is too much to diverge from a known entity of a degree.

To address this challenge, there’s a need for increased awareness, understanding and acceptance of education-to-career opportunities, in addition to the methodology to vet, rank, and determine which pathways are high-quality, in an effort to make diverse paths an acceptable norm.

The role of government in increasing access to multiple pathways: Government can play an important role in responding to the need for greater access to multiple postsecondary paths based on skills, as well as mitigating perceived risks for employers and individuals. We know that seven out of 10 jobs require some amount of education and training beyond high school, so we need to ensure that there are multiple paths to success and economic mobility. There’s also the potential to increase funding by expanding and modernizing the Pell Grant to provide the incentive to encourage more young people to pursue diverse pathways that are affordable.

Removing the degree requirement from hiring practices and prioritizing skills-based hiring: Requiring a four-year college degree as a default limits the talent pool and shuts out capable and engaged young people who are eager to learn and grow. Employers have an essential role to play in meeting today’s workforce where they are and providing the training and support required to develop skills that evolve with the economy. Large corporations that are dropping the degree requirement include Netflix, IBM, and Apple, and small and medium-sized businesses are also open to skills-based hiring. In many cases, change management is needed to increase chances of successful implementation of these practices.

It’s also important to note that even when employers remove degree requirements from job descriptions, as Maria Flynn noted that JFF has also done, they are finding that their actual hiring practices haven’t changed that much. Beyond eliminating the requirement, businesses need to employ strategies and implement practices that enable them to better evaluate candidates with non-degree credentials, as well as provide skills-based training and earn and learn opportunities for prospective employees. Also, critical to normalizing the acceptance of non-degree pathways is a nationally recognized system for vetting and ranking credentials across various fields. According to a recent report from the Higher Learning Commission, there are more than one million credentials, which can be overwhelming for all stakeholders to traverse.Thanks for reading, and we hope you found this helpful. For more thought leadership and news on career readiness for young people, you can also peruse and subscribe to our newsletter, PivotED.