Why many employers have ditched 4-year degree requirements

John Williams heard about the training through his former high school and decided to give it a try.
At the time, Williams, now 22, was finishing his associate degree in computer science at Wilbur Wright College in Chicago while working part-time in a restaurant.
He was accepted into this training, run by global services company Accenture, as part of its efforts to encourage hiring based on skills and not just college education.
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"I was a trainee for a year starting July 2019," Williams told Yahoo Money. "After completing the program, I was hired as a full-time employee and was promoted to IT Analyst last November."
John Williams, an Accenture apprentice graduate, now works full-time for the company as an IT analyst from his home office. (Photo courtesy of Accenture)
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In recent years, major employers including Accenture, AT&T, Dell, Google, Hilton Hotels, Ernst & Young, Oracle, IBM and Intel have hired more workers like Williams without four-year college degrees, according to The Emerging Degree Reset: How the Shift to Skills-Based Hiring Holds the Keys to Growing the U.S. Workforce at a Time of Talent Shortage,” a recent report from the Burning Glass Institute, an independent nonprofit research center using data from Emsi Burning Glass, a labor market data company.
The movement away from the four-year degree requirement is increasing. With almost two openings for each of the 6 million unemployed the Labor Department counted in February, employers are struggling to find qualified workers.
A degree requirement immediately excludes the 62% of U.S. adults over 25 without a bachelor's degree -- including 71% of the black population and 79% of the Hispanic population, according to the latest Census Bureau results.
Important implications for job seekers
The researchers analyzed more than 51 million job vacancies and looked for requirements for a four-year college degree. In 2017, 51% required completion. By 2021, that proportion had dropped to 44%.
At Accenture, for example, researchers found that the proportion of job postings with a Bachelor of Arts degree or higher fell from 54% in 2017 to 43% in 2021.
When employers scrap their degrees, they pay more attention to the skills in job postings and look for soft skills like writing, communication and attention to detail, the researchers added.
This restructuring could have a major impact on how employers create opportunities for an additional 1.4 million jobs for workers without a college degree over the next five years, the researchers said.
The change is most noticeable for mid-level positions – defined as those requiring post-secondary education or training but less than a four-year degree.
But it's only a start. Of the middle-skilled job descriptions reviewed by the researchers, 37% showed no decrease in degree requirements, "meaning about 15.7 million people were effectively left out of the applicant pool, despite employers bitterly complaining about labor unavailability." They write.
Pedestrians walk past a "Now Hiring" sign on March 16, 2022 in Arlington, Virginia. (Photo by Stefani Reynolds/AFP) (Photo by STEFANI REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)
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The cost of four-year degrees was a major hurdle
Average tuition and fees for the 2021-2022 school year are $43,775 at private colleges, $28,238 for foreign students at public schools, and $11,631 for state residents at public colleges, according to data provided by the U.S. News & World Report .
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