Dismissed by Degrees

How degree inflation is undermining American competitiveness and hurting America’s middle class.

Employers feeling the pinch

America’s skills gap is continuing to grow. Labor participation is declining steeply, while demand for skills is sharply rising. Too many jobs are taking too long to fill, while too many aspiring workers remain on the sidelines. And American employers, people and the US economy are suffering.

The problem is most acute in middle-skills roles. Historically, these jobs provided a critical career path for millions of people with more than a high-school diploma, but less than a four-year college degree.

Employers are increasingly requesting a four-year college degree in jobs that previously have not required one. This “degree inflation” affects the two thirds of working age Americans who are otherwise capable but do not have a degree.

read the report

”Despite record-high open job postings—more than 6.1 million at the end of July 2017—millions of Americans cannot find gainful employment. Currently, the United States is home to 6.8 million unemployed Americans and another 6.7 million underemployed Americans who are seeking full-time work”

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, https://www.bls.gov/jlt/ (accessed October 2017).



of the U.S. workforce does not have a four-year college degree.

tweet this

The big squeeze

Without a college degree, millions of Americans who are ready, willing and able to do middle-skill jobs, are increasingly ineligible to apply.

But ironically, instead of improving corporate America’s ability to compete and grow, the insistence on hiring grads for middle-skill roles is having the opposite effect. It’s squeezing the pool of available graduates while forcing millions of non-grads out of contention.

Consequently, middle-skill roles are now among the hardest to fill. And degree inflation is making it more difficult — and more expensive — to recruit for these roles.

read the report
3 in 5

employers filter out non-grad applicants that are otherwise qualified.


of employers agree the need for a degree makes middle-skill jobs harder to fill.


Up to 6.2m jobs could be affected by degree inflation.

What’s the hidden cost of degree inflation?

While using a degree to filter candidates can initially ease and speed up recruitment, using it as a proxy for generic competence is translating to sub-optimal outcomes.

Rising demand is making grads more expensive to employ. Yet employers say they are no more productive than non-grads for middle-skill roles. It also fosters a ‘square pegs for round holes’ hiring approach with lower employee engagement and reduced staff retention.

As a result, employers are incurring hidden costs, restricting their access to talent and undermining competitiveness.

“Employers expect grads to be more likely to leave for a competitor.”

tweet this

Gain, train and retain talent: A new approach

A college degree is a great aspiration for anyone. However, lack of one should not create artificial barriers that deny employers access to talent.

With a more intelligent approach based on competence rather than credentials, employers can combat degree inflation. They can fill middle-skill roles more easily from a wider talent pool, mitigate costs, and boost their ability to compete.

Internships, apprenticeships and vocational programs can all play a vital part to grow your talent pipeline for middle-skill roles. Whether it’s preparing young millennials to enter the workforce, retraining experienced baby boomers or attracting employees from diverse, non-traditional backgrounds, it’s a win-win for everyone.

read the report
  • 1.

    Identify which roles are prone to degree inflation

  • 2.

    Define specific skills for your critical middle-skills jobs

  • 3.

    Evaluate hidden costs of hiring grads versus non-grads

  • 4.

    Hire for competence rather than buying in credentials

  • 5.

    Work with partners to futureproof the talent pipeline

Champions of change

Major employers are already investing in the fundamentals to nurture non-graduate talent, on the basis of ‘hire for attitude, train for skill’. It’s not just about cutting hidden costs, it’s about unearthing the hidden benefits of building corporate cultures that value sustainable talent development to drive long-term business success.

It’s an approach that’s working for companies including Chipotle, CVS Health, GAP, IBM, Hasbro, John Deere, JP Morgan Chase & Co, Lifespan, State Street, Swiss Post and Walmart.

Success stories

Financial services firm State Street is developing Boston WINs— a workforce investment network — to hire 1000 urban school graduates by 2019. It is partnering with non-profits to get underprivileged students on the path from education to employment.

The company has already hired 200 students via the program. Says CEO Joseph Hooley: “This is not just feel-good stuff…We need more IT workers…. Boston WINs is helping us find great employees.”

read the report


Gerald Chertavian

CEO & Founder, Year Up
Principal, Grads of Life

Elyse Rosenblum

Principal, Grads of Life