Touted by the governor as the first effort of its kind in the country, the initiative has made hundreds of job openings immediately available to people who don’t have a four-year degree but have other experience or training.
Announcing the move, Hogan (R) said, “Through these efforts… we are ensuring that qualified and non-graduate candidates are regularly considered for these career change opportunities.” A spokesperson for the governor did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday.
“It was time !” one user wrote on social media, celebrating that it would reward skills rather than credentials. “Arbitrary degree and licensing requirements stifle economic growth and freedom,” another person wrote.
Others, however, worried about the move devalued the college education that many worked hard to earn – and went into debt to achieve – and reflected growing skepticism of academia.
“Education has been seen as a pillar of the American dream,” said Frederick R. Lynch, associate professor of government at Claremont McKenna College. “Maybe that’s not the case anymore.”
After Hogan’s announcement, Lynch wrote on Twitter: “Reducing incentives for higher education is now seen as a great idea? … ignores the cultural, political and social benefits of higher education. Sad.”
Many people responded with skepticism, he said, calling the university a racketeer and questioning its value.
Bridgette Gray, chief client officer at Opportunity @ Work, the nonprofit that partners with Maryland to identify and recruit skilled workers, said she was shocked by some of the criticism of the announcement that she has heard, in particular, that the State is increasing the labor force.
People who can demonstrate they have skills should be able to compete for jobs, she said. “No university is equal to no skill.”
The national debate over the value of higher education is steeped in politics, both right and left.
In a 2019 Gallup survey, Republicans were less likely than Democrats to say college is very important, and the overall share of adults who thought so had fallen to 51% from 70% several years earlier. Conservative lawmakers in some states have criticized universities for introducing ideological biases into academia and not doing enough to prepare students for careers. And a common liberal complaint is that many colleges reinforce the status quo, with expensive education accessible only to wealthy families.
Yet a 2021 Lumina-Gallup study due for release in April found that 44% of adults aged 18-59 who don’t have a college degree said that compared to 20 years ago, having a two- or four-year college degree is more important for career success.
Removing barriers to employment is a good idea, Lynch said, but education has provided upward mobility for tens of millions of minorities and women — and many benefits outside of work, such as critical thinking , civic engagement, healthy behavior, etc.
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In Maryland, state officials will partner with Opportunity@Work to identify people with skills for approximately 300 jobs such as information technology, customer service and administrative roles. These skills can come from previous work experience, community college, military service, or other training. Wages will remain the same, officials said.
“We’re not an anti-college organization at all,” Gray said. “We believe in college. But we believe that university cannot be the only path to success”, and that employers should in fact not raise a drawbridge by requiring degrees rather than considering other qualifications.
Political leaders always talk about a talent shortage, she said, but she argues that there is no shortage: employers just need to rethink how they find that talent.
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The changing economy has driven the need for more skilled workers in recent decades, said Anthony P. Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.
In the 1970s, most jobs did not require a college degree. “Now it has literally flipped over,” he said.
The share of jobs requiring post-secondary education has risen from just under a third in 1983 to nearly two-thirds in 2021, and is expected to rise to 72% by 2031, Carnevale said. And in 1980-81, fewer than a million bachelor’s degrees were awarded, but that number had more than doubled by 2018-19.
Despite historical resistance to requiring degrees, the United States has become an accredited society, he said.
And that leads to the degree, he argued, with “unfair barriers to upward mobility for many people.”
But on the question of whether employers are just recruiting graduates, Carnevale said the overwhelming evidence is no, they’re not. “They actually need those skills from people.”
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Jonathan Butcher, education researcher at the Heritage Foundation, said there had been too much emphasis on the idea of college as a necessity, with other paths to success.
Over the past few decades, colleges have invested a lot of money in things that have nothing to do with the classroom, Butcher said. “It was very distracting, even harmful in some cases,” he said. In some surveys, students said they were afraid to speak their mind in class, for example, he said.
“There’s a right-wing critique, there’s a left-wing critique,” of the university, Lynch said. “There is some validity on both sides,” especially with the rapidly rising cost of higher education.
He thinks results beyond career and wages are important. “There are non-job benefits that come from a college education that we don’t think about often enough… Is college worth it for the rest of your life?”