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College Degree Required by Increasing Number of Companies (nytimes.com)
44 points by wallflower 1318 days ago | hide | past | web | 63 comments | favorite

Being a web developer often times feels like I live in backwards land.

I went to UTD for 1.5 semesters. I ended up with $2,000 in student loans (paid off!). I make a stupid amount of money, work from home in my pajamas, and have great benefits. I also do contract work on the side that pushes my income even higher. To top it all off, I love what I do and can't imagine myself doing anything else.

Compare that with friends from high school that went to state college for 4 years, have $50,000 in student loan debt and ended up getting a job that pays less than $50k, with long hours and uncertain stability.

Thankfully not having a college degree has not affected me in a negative way.

The degrees are important when it's difficult to demonstrate skill. When you can't put together a portfolio of work, you need external signals, and pedigree is a commonly accepted signal (to a great extent, due to the fact that those with a strong pedigree are usually the ones hiring and they promulgate that type of thinking)

Web development is one area where its possible to construct a portfolio and have others evaluate your work, which makes the degree a less relevant part of the evaluation process.

A good Portfolio is really key. I've pivoted from being a web developer to a mobile developer (iOS & Droid).

I only got hired for this job because I had 3 apps in the app-store. I was passed over for many jobs that I was qualified for, but being a programmer most businesses want a cog that already knows everything (which is definitely a misnomer). I have a university degree in 'Music Theory & Composition', not CS, which I think has hurt me when HR people looked at my resume. Also I was passed over for a job because I didn't list HTML as a language I know. Sometimes you're limited just by the ignorant people looking at your resume.

Also the best jobs come from personal referrals.

> I was passed over for a job because I didn't list HTML as a language I know.

to be fair, if that was the reason they passed over you, it might've been a blessing in disguise because i suspect that place wouldn't have been a very pleasant place to work!

With sites like github this is true for any tech job. Think how much code you could write and put on github if you didn't go to college and worked solely on you own projects for three years.

This is true for any field where you are required to create things (art, design, etc.).

It's harder for subjects like history, but if you put your mind to it you could do a lot of your own research in a particular area over three years and write your own book, for example.

> With sites like github this is true for any tech job.

Not any tech job. In some specialties there's still a lot to be said for formal education, and I wouldn't anticipate it being easy to land a job doing something like NLP without at least a Bachelor's degree any time soon.

For stuff like Web development where it's mostly about knowing your tools rather than understanding theory, though, yes definitely. Even if we're going to assume some formal training will be expected, I still think most folks in the tech space are poorly served by the prejudice for 4-year degrees. An associate's degree or certificate would be far less expensive and onerous. I suspect it would also be able to do a better job of preparing folks for their careers, by virtue of being freer to focus on practical skills without also having to serve the educational needs of students who are bound for postgraduate programs.

You have to hit the lottery with parents who will go along with this program. :) My parents would have looked at me like I sprouted another arm.

Like they did when I was about to drop out of school and start at the community college in the mid-90s so that I could get an IT degree and move to silicon valley. In retrospect, it wouldn't have been a bad idea -- they were teaching COBOL and Fortran after all. :)

I live in Utah, and here I've noticed the same trends. A bachelors degree for Science/Math is not enough to land a "good" job. Where good is defined by me as over 50k and promotion opportunities. Employers weed out based on possession of a bachelors degree.

However, the market for software engineers is much more merit based right now. Many good engineering jobs that pay 6 figures require "a bachelors degree in a technical field or equivalent experience".

I'll be the first one to argue that attending a university is a good idea for someone who want to call him/herself a developer, but lack of a degree is not a showstopper to a great job. The reality though is that if/when the market for engineers slows down, employers will probably begin to apply the same filters. Even if a degree isn't required today, it might be a necessity in 5 years for someone starting out.

According to a rigorous survey (n = 2 or 3, maybe), this cultural shift might already be underway.

Namely, I know some developers who do not hold degrees themselves that have recently started listing a Bachelor's in computer science as a requirement for consideration on new job postings. It's not, obviously, because they think people who haven't been through college can't do the job. It's because they're already seeing so many applicants that the filter's being applied anyway, and they merely decided to start being up-front about it.

Just curious what do you consider 'stupid amount of money'?

Last year I cleared 115k. This year is shaping up to be a bit better.

It's not a huge amount of money to many other people, but I consider it quite high for having no real formal education in my chosen career... plus loving what I do!

Out of interest, what is it that you do? Freelance consulting/development/design?

I'm a PHP developer based out of Dallas, TX.

My biggest strength that I highlight when applying to a position is testing (unit/integration/behavioral).

I work fulltime salary, plus do some small amount of contract work on the side.

Did this catch the attention of anyone else?

“I am over $100,000 in student loan debt right now,” said Megan Parker, who earns $37,000 as the firm’s receptionist. She graduated from the Art Institute of Atlanta in 2011 with a degree in fashion and retail management, and spent months waiting on “bridezillas” at a couture boutique, among other stores, while churning out office-job applications.


Something is very, very wrong with the student loan program in the USA.

"Art Institute of X" where X is not Chicago usually implies a for-profit institution owned by EDMC ("educational management corporation").

Academy of Art (in SF) is quite similar, but perhaps more known regionally: in both cases they seem to provide some kind of legitimate training in commercial art (by itself a respectable discipline), but it's probably fair to say that they draw in students who aren't quite aware of what they've signed up for and the how far they will go into debt.

Many students at these schools aren't even interested in art, fashion, or film per se: for some it's the last chance at graduation (some came after transferring through as many as six schools, etc...)

I think for-profit universities (and perhaps, lower-tier private law schools) represent the educational bubble very well: in all cases I think they provide legitimate training and can be a value-add to many individuals. Problem is the rate at which they (effectively) sell degrees is much higher than the rate at which the (already limited) market for holders of those degrees grows. This is definitely thanks to the ease of getting student loans.

Academy of Art in SF is an awesome business scam where the owners turn student loans and international student tuition dollars into tax free real estate holdings.

"For those keeping track, Academy of Art University now owns 1.93 million square feet of space in 41 properties in San Francisco. This includes 22 academic and office properties and 19 residential buildings. The school owns everything from historic landmarks like the Cannery on Fisherman's Wharf to St. Brigid's Church on Van Ness to prime south financial district buildings like 79 and 180 New Montgomery St."


Google "art academy sf real estate" - there's articles like this going back to 2001.

That's a particularly egregious sample. The Art Institute is a for-profit college, the likes of which are infamous for milking student loan money. See also University of Phoenix, ITT, DeVry, and Everest. It's a huge industry in the USA. Frontline of PBS had a good episode about this called College Inc. and I recommend it to anyone interested in this topic.

Something is wrong with people that that they choose to go to schools that cost $100,000 to get degrees in fashion and/or retail management.

Something is really wrong with a regime that _lends_ an 18 year old $100,000 for an art degree. This is only possible because the lender is guaranteed paybacks no matter what (because the borrower cannot default).

If we let borrowers default on loans under certain criteria (say, their annual income was below a certain threshold), then lenders would have to actually vet the students degrees --- and then we might have a sane system where you're denied a student loan if you're going to major in underwater basket weaving, but approved if you major in engineering.

But can you imagine this world? Where you are sending your transcripts to the bank, proving to them that not only will you finish college, but be able to get a job afterwards.

And every month in college having to send your grades to them so they can be sure you're still a good investment.

It makes sense to me but... can you imagine the feelings that would be hurt by this?

Maybe feelings need to be hurt...A lot of people expect things to just be handed to them these days, especially with the "everybody is a winner" culture that is pushed in the elementary schools currently.

Wouldn't the simpler system be if you fail a unit twice You've got to find the money yourself to pay for that unit.

Just hook the college results system up to the load provider and let their system keep track of it that way.

This is more or less how the government funding works in Australia, but saying that the costs of higher education are a lot lower.

Wringing every ounce of income out of someone who is otherwise a waste of space seems like a feature not a bug. I just laugh at moral outrage over stupid white americans getting "screwed." Especially when it's entirely voluntary.

The rhetoric I heard from both my parents, my teachers, and my guidance consoler during my junior and senior year in high school (2000-2001) was "Employers want a college degree. It doesn't matter what degree you get, unless you want to do STEM, so pick something that interests you. College really just signals to an employer that you 'know how to learn.'"

The first part is mostly true: employers want a college degree. The second part is also true: STEM (with the exception of software development) tends to prefer people with specific degrees. The third part, however, is total bullshit, and it got A LOT of people into a A LOT of debt. The reality is employers are incredibly picky not just over a candidate's degree, but these days they're much less willing to invest in employee training. They want candidates who can show up and do the job on day 1.

My hunch is that lot of the college advice was doled out to students based upon the Baby Boomer's understanding of the world: College degrees are a hot item employers want, and they (usually) don't care what it's in! The employer will train you at your job and you just need the necessary reading, writing, and math skills. This probably was the case in the 1960s, 70s, and early 80s but by the 90s things had changed.

(As an aside- I ended up dropping out of college after 1.5 years and avoided debt. Opportunity knocked and probably saved me from tons of debt).

Art schools are notoriously expensive and the degrees are notoriously worthless. I draw as a hobby, and at one point in my life I was thinking about going to art school. I was a member of a HN like community for artists, and the advice I got was to get the cheapest liberal arts degree I could find if I was serious about being an artist, and then draw constantly on my own, go to free/cheap workshops, take on small contracts, etc. Almost every single person in that community regretted spending the money for an actual art degree.

It's really just common sense, in most industries, having a degree is either looked at as a huge bonus, or a flat-out requirement. As an artist, you would have an extremely hard time finding a client / employer who cares if you even graduated from high school or learned to tie your shoes, as long as they like what's in your portfolio.

That being said, anything remotely related to art is going to be highly competitive, because no one really retires from being an artist, and there lots of people who have 30+ years of experience.

Maybe. But I think the school system (K-12 and higher education) are somewhat culpable here.

Starting fairly early, we teach students that there are a bunch of hoops they need to jump through in order to get a good job later in life. For an 18 year old, it is easy to see college as just another (and hopefully last) hoop to jump through.

Colleges (and the for-profit schools are exceptionally bad here) show them a rosy outlook for whatever major they are interested in - I guarantee you every person who is up to their eyeballs in debt got shown something saying "x% of graduates from the <insert not very marketable degree> program were employed 6 months after graduation with average salary of $y" based on questionable information, did the math, and thought it was a reasonable choice.

I don't think high school students are given enough information and enough reality to fully understand the ramifications of their college choices.

I absolutely made some bad choices when picking my major in college, but it took me quite a while to really figure that out - thankfully, I at least didn't get a bunch of debt to go along with it.

I disagree that telling kids that there are hoops to jump through is the problem. There are hoops to jump through. The problem is telling kids to major in what they're interested in. The "follow your bliss" crap instead of "follow a paycheck."

Theres got to be a fine balance - you have to both find something you enjoy, and yet something that pays the bills. Unfortuantely that is sort of rare - the only flexible part in all of this is your interests. Can you change your own interests to fit reality?

Something is wrong with employers who only hire university graduates, creating a market for receptionists with $100,000 art degrees.

I really don't understand how people get sucked into these for-profit (scam) schools. Or why the federal government provides student loans for students going to such places.

Presuming Ms. Parker lived in Georgia, in-state tuition at most public universities there would've cost her much less, and provided a better education. (and that's not including things like Georgia's Hope scholarship program)

The schools have excellent marketing campaigns. Their TV commercials run all day, with emphasis on the daytime market. They show up to high school college fairs with slick marketing material and huge promises of careers that appeal to teenagers. Plus, they make signing up for loans as streamlined and easy as possible.

In-state tuition is still rising well ahead of the means for most to pay for it out of pocket. It's not six figures by any means, but I envy the stories of generations past that managed to live at home, work part time year round or full time in the summer, and come out four years later more or less unscathed. It's frustrating to watch prices rise while state funds stay constant or decrease.

Hmn, arithmetic reality check. Georgia State, $11k per year in-state. Hmn, my alma mater is still charging about half that, for any Canadian student.

Full time minimum-wage work for the summer? $7.25/h (GA min wage) * 40h/w * 17 weeks = $5k income (basically untaxed). So you're in debt for $24k over your 4-year degree.

That's a lot more than I would have guessed. Guess the student had better figure out something valuable to do (more valuable than minimum wage).

The student loan bubble is nearing a tipping point. As of a few years ago, the total outstanding student loan obligations in the US exceeded the credit card obligations.

I wouldn't be surprised to see a very hard correction very soon (or a massive bailout). At that point, I expect many of the not-so-stellar private colleges (like the Art Institutes) that thrived on easy student loans to shut down.

Disclosure: I've made a significant amount of money last year betting on this by shorting APOL.

slightly off topic but i don't understand how this betting works - what does shorting a stock mean, and who is "losing" the money in order for you to gain?

I work in the careers space and did a conference call with 20-30 career services professionals from Art Institutes campuses across the country. It became very clear during the call that they were in the difficult position of telling their students that the commercials that told them that the degree would get them a great job weren't quite telling the truth.

Isn't that the cliché of stories like this?

The article misses a very important point: in the economy of 2013 in the US (outside of silicon valley), labor supply far outstrips demand. The employers can afford to be picky, and there's some truth to the idea that the college student will work harder at the lower level jobs because they are saddled with debt (and are less likely to have flexibility).

Ironically, there is a similar practice in finance where bosses and companies help their top employees live beyond their means so that they will be "forced" to continue working.

Some of the best engineers I've ever worked with had no college degree. Give me someone passionate, dedicated, honest working, smart and fun to be around, degree or no degree, that person is going to be an assest to any company.

I agree with the sentiment, but I think we're unique. If you're a skilled developer, or a web designer, you can prove it with a body of work (open source or personal projects). Not all jobs have that.


This is so disingenuous and plain misleading and I see it around a bit.

Most of them, if not all went to Uni.

They then made great contacts and could pull out because they became successful early.

Without Uni, they possibly would all be nobodies.

This. Meeting people is the most important part of uni by far. Loads of people will otherwise not meet other motivated people to take on big things.

Requiring a degree is a way to filter resumes.

If you get 200 applications to a position and requiring a degree allows you to narrow that down to 30, why not?

I believe we are soon moving to where this excuse for carefully considering candidates will no longer hold. More people with college degrees will make that significantly higher.

Also, 15%? Is that accurate, or are you just throwing numbers out there cos you think 85% of job applicants really do not have college degrees?

What makes you think that, as college degrees become more common, employers will "carefully consider" candidates instead? They are just as likely to look for other cheap, easy filters: like college ranking, graduate degrees, etc. You already see this in some fields. E.g. it's almost impossible to get a decent-paying job with just a BS in Chem/Bio these days.

Exactly right. We had a previous discussion of this topic which is worth reading as well: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3998813

Right now, it's a Bachelor's. In 10 years, perhaps less, it'll be a Masters. This has nothing to do with required skills or knowledge, and everything to do with the fact that we simply require fewer and fewer people to actually do work, and have got to get through that ever-growing pile of resumes somehow.

Hiring degree holders for things like receptionist and file clerk only works if the job market is bad and you don't care about churn.

Because the job might not benefit from an overqualified degree holder.

Article opens with the very thought I left college 10 years ago thinking--this degree is just my new high school diploma. Maybe in another generation or two, we'll see graduate degrees becoming the new BA/BS. Maybe then people will begin to realize this is all a farce.

I'm not sure it's a farce, or at least that's not the word I would use. I haven't graduated high school yet (3 months to go) but I think it's probably better for people to have more knowledge on a subject. So if we're raising the bar, I don't see how that's a bad thing. Eventually the system will catch up and student loands will get remade into a better system, but until that time you can definitely avoid accumulating $100,000 in debt; state schools are much cheaper, and there are plenty of scholarships and grants available if you look in the right places.

This is like going backwards.

UK person here. We've had this problem for a decade or so.

It started in the 90s with companies wanting graduates for roles that really doesn't require a higher education and if you didn't have a degree, your CV/Resume was promptly filed in the bin. So the government made higher education a lot more accessible and pimped it out a lot, much to the expense of both the students and the nation. More Universities, bigger classes, wider spectrum of courses, etc.

Lots of people now have degrees. I mean lots. When students are planning their education, there really isn't a "not go to University" option that doesn't carry the sweeping the streets or factory line worker stigma with it. It's also really quite rare to meet anyone younger than ~35 that hasn't been to university.

We don't quite have the Pedigree problem that, as a foreigner, it appears the US does - i.e. we don't really have a "X University is better than Y" type classification going on (e.g. in TV programme 'Suits', Pearson Hardman will only recruit Harvard educated lawyers. No other College graduates need apply. No idea how 'real' this problem is in the States.) There is some social perception of certain universities, but I'm yet to encounter any restriction being imposed based on which University someone has been to. However, we are seeing the "Must have a 1st Degree with Masters" line appearing on job adverts more and more which is simply just pushing the bar higher, as I imagine is what employers in the US asking for "College X" educated applicants are doing.

All the while we have an education system that is drilling into our young people's heads (and their parents) that University is a must. There's a lot of pressure for young people to get into University.

Degrees are not worth anything like they were before because everyone has one. Nobody "stands out" any more, is all I mean. Everyone has one because of the demand, and the government gave everyone a big boost into Uni. Recently the government had to cut back on the pseudo-subsidy they were giving to the student body, so now we also have a lot of young people who think University is make-or-break, but will also have a large amount of debt (£60,000+) before they've even started working.

Despite all this there seems to be - at least in my experience as one of the few people to have not attended university - a growing number of employers who are starting to ignore the necessity for a degree. Degrees are still regarded as a demonstration of one's character and ability to learn, but it's becoming less and less of a requirement. Perhaps it is just my experience but recruiters, employers, and certainly myself as someone who has recruited many times, are seeing past the qualifications and doing their own assessment (for lack of a better phrase) of prospective employees. I don't mean we're sitting our own exams, I mean we are doing meaningful interviews. We're inviting candidates to work with us for a few hours, and so on. Employers are realising they want to hire intelligent people, and that not everyone has access to a University education, and also that the current education system just doesn't work for everyone. This is what I hope will become of the education and employment system of the future - that a degree an option for students to pursue, but not the only option.

That should be enough rambling.

TL;DR: We've gone full circle in the UK, from requiring that candidates/applicants have degrees, back to assessing candidates for ourselves, and I expect we will again and again in the coming generations.

> Degrees are not worth anything like they were before because everyone has one.

the degree isn't worth anything to differentiate people, but saying that getting a college degree isn't worthwhile is not true - at least, if your personal goal isn't to _just get a job_, but to learn how to learn, to make friends and form a network of peers. But i agree that the amount of debt you have to carry to get all of that is quite a problem.

Poor wording on my part, but that's definitely not what I was shooting for at all. Degrees are still degrees - I'm not trying to take away from that at all, but as the successive sentence to the one you have quoted says - all I mean is nobody stands out because they've got a degree anymore, because it is the new norm to have one. Same for any kind of merit; if everyone has the same merit, then nobody stands out.

Enterprise rental car company made a fortune hiring underpaid non-college-degree-holders for its counter staff.

Start your own company then

"Starting your own company" is certainly not for everyone. And even for those who will eventually have the knowledge and domain expertise to start something profitable (i.e. pays at least your own salary), it often takes time. You don't suddenly pop out of high school and have a profitable company on your hands.

Everyone can't start one, to start one we should have focus, commitment, idea, most important part is to do the ground work.

> Everyone can't start one

i'd like to challenge this idea that not everyone can start a company. May be not in the current form that a company takes - i.e., having a lot of "admin" stuff to take care off (such as taxes, registration, various laws etc).

I think specialization is the key here - may be there is room for a specialized company whose sole job is to take the "business admin" part out, and all the founder has to do is actually do the work. All of the other parts that a ancillary is done by this specialized company. What this could mean is that instead of working for someone, everyone works for themselves, and all the organizing happens via some automated fashion (akin to how the stock market operates).

Also what this means is that if the efficiency of the system is can be made high, then mediocrity will quickly die out (due to natural selection).

How do you start a company without money? It's hard to start any business without a minimum of cash flow. I know my parents couldn't have fronted me the money...

you dont get a lot of cashflow if you begin your professional life with a 100.000$ debt.

So, an eighteen year old without that debt is going to have a better shot? Let's not talk about the case where the child has a trust fund, or wealthy parents, or is incredible at a skill. Let's talk about the average 18 year old.

Considering that nobody in their right mind would give that 18 year old a business loan, where are they getting this capital to start a business? (Remember, due to the recession, the traditional entry level job is taken by people with significantly more experience, making the skill and income acquisition portion of the program harder.)

When I hear this advice, I usually hear it from people born on second base and think they hit a double.

> nobody in their right mind would give that 18 year old a business loan

that's only if the giver of the funds is an irrational actor. if the business proposition has meat, they ought to be able to get funds.

The next gen of fund raising would very much be like kickstarter (except this time, you actually get equity, not just a preordering system). I suspect you could even keep the identity/private information of the founder a secret, and make the proposal and get judged by that alone.

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