For Generation Z and Millenials, looming debt has become a participation prize for doing what has become a pre-determined expectation from society upon entering adulthood—which is going to college and getting a four-year degree. This has many compounding after quakes, with a new study finding student loan debt has forced many younger Americans to hold off on other major financial decisions. Student loan debt is the second largest form of debt in the US behind home mortgages and has accelerated substantially in recent decades with Americans holding more than $1.7 trillion in debt from student loans. This makes for two-thirds of all graduates, more than 43 million Americans, that owe large sums of money for their education. This begs the question of whether the high cost of tuition for college is truly worth what it promises, which to date has been the chance at a better life. But is owing money for the rest of your life the definition of ‘The American Dream’? This realization is something that is causing a seismic shift in not only the realm of education but the professional work world as well. In this blog, we are going to outline the biggest disparities in the current trajectory to becoming a professional, and what solutions are needed to patch them so that the career world can get back on track.

Does a Degree Determine Performance?

As Bernie Sanders pointed out in his tweet last year, the cost of education, in nominal dollars, has increased by roughly 3,800% since the mid-1960s’. Insult to injury, according to a survey from Finder taken on recent college graduates, 39% of Americans say they aren’t sure (13%) or don’t think (26%) that college was worth the money. It was also found that 40% of these graduates said that the reason they don’t think their college degree was worth it is that they aren’t actually using their degree. That is a lot of debt, not bringing a whole lot of value to an individual’s career paths.

With phenomena such as the Great Resignation still significantly affecting the work world, it is time that American society breaks free from the antiquated consensus that a college degree is the only prerequisite towards a better career, and by proxy, life. As it turns out, even big organizations are recognizing this transformation as well. In a recent interview on Sunday Morning (CBS), former CEO and Executive Chairman of Merck, Ken Frazier, and former Chairman, President, and CEO of IBM, Ginni Rometty, have been taking matters into their own hands to catalyze this change from the top down. While they were acting CEOs at each of their respective companies, they employed the initiative to look at every single job and ask if the position truly required a college degree. What started with 90% of jobs outlining the pre-requisite of a college degree, is now at less than 50%. 

“People who have the right skills training are actually 5 X’s more likely to succeed in the job than those with a college degree,” said Frazier in the interview.

“Our data shows that performance is equally as valuable as a four-year degree,” continued Rometty.

This shows that society’s scope of college degrees as an indicator for professional success has been too narrow. Outside of traditional four-year education, there are other decisive metrics that need to be measured in order to not only build a lucrative career—ones with significantly less payout as well. 

Determining Key Career Metrics

Employers care about college degrees because, to date, they have been signals of future value creation. If a candidate has a college degree, they have gone through a certain amount of coursework, certifying them at a higher qualification than someone who didn’t. The problem with this validation theory is that it defines ability in an extremely limited way, and doesn’t clearly measure proficiency in performance. There are many other key metrics, known as human skills,  that determine this. The career world needs to start looking at human skills and ranking them in relevance to industry, company, and role. This will require those in hiring to reprogram their preconceived notion of what candidates look like—thinking less in bullet points and more within context. When positions are more accurately filled, a win-win is created—resulting in more people employed coupled with more companies acquiring and retaining the employees they need to drive value and growth. 

Here at Almas, we have created a proprietary platform that helps companies integrate objective human-driven data into hiring and workforce management. By using an immersive, game-based digital work sample to measure more than a dozen high-demand human capabilities, we provide data-driven solutions for organizations to measure needed human skills in the job market—providing the tools to fill in the bigger picture of candidates.