BA Requirement Ban
Deflate the Overcredentialing Bubble
Prohibit the use of bachelor’s degree requirements in private-sector job descriptions and hiring criteria, including the use of technology to preemptively screen applicants who lack degrees.
Employers increasingly require degrees for jobs that did not previously need them. This “degree inflation” is driven not by major changes in the skills these jobs require, but by changes in hiring practices. Degree requirements remove an estimated 15.7 million capable American workers from consideration for jobs they can do. This is devastating for those workers and harms employers as well, who needlessly exacerbate their own hiring challenges. Excessive employer demand for degrees also amplifies the harmful cultural message that college is the primary path to prosperity and respect. Many young people are pressured to pursue expensive, debt-financed degrees they don’t need and which the labor market cannot always reward. Everyone loses: workers without degrees, many workers with degrees, employers seeking workers, and taxpayers asked to subsidize a broken higher education system.
More employers are voluntarily abandoning degree requirements, but research suggests this positive trend is developing too slowly to address more than a fraction of the problem. Policymakers must forcefully break the cycle. A model exists. In June 2020, President Trump required the federal government to prioritize skills over degrees in hiring, restricting reliance on the education attainment of applicants. The order stands and has been replicated by numerous state governors of both parties. Congress or the president could go further and prohibit federal agencies from requiring degrees from their contractors and consultants in addition to their employees. But government is not merely an employer, with influence only over its own workforce. It also sets rules for private employer practices where the market has proved incapable of advancing important national interests.
The United States should prohibit the use of bachelor’s degree requirements in private sector job descriptions and hiring criteria. Reasonable exceptions should be limited to situations in which a specific degree is a legal requirement or mandated by a third-party professional standard (e.g., a theology degree required for ordination by a particular denomination). This prohibition would foreclose recruitment processes and HR policies that preemptively dismiss applicants without degrees—including hiring algorithms and AI tools that discard such applications. Employers could still consider educational achievement when evaluating an application, but capable job applicants without degrees must be allowed to enter the pool.