Gongol.com Archives: February 2024

Brian Gongol

February 17, 2024

News Should degrees be job requirements?

A bill in Nebraska would prohibit preferences for applicants to state jobs on the basis of whether they hold a college degree. The obvious case to be made for the proposal is that it opens up job opportunities for people who do not possess a degree, which may in turn expand the pool for potential applicants. For taxpayers looking to save money, an expanded pool of potential public-sector workers could generally be expected to mean a lower overall labor cost for state government. ■ Whether such a proposal is prudent or not depends upon a number of factors. The most important may be the extent to which higher education matters as a formational tool (that is, how much we can expect that a newly-minted Bachelor of Arts in Finance will know that she could put to work immediately as an Appraiser III working for the Department of Transportation), versus how much a degree is valuable as a signaling effect (that is, how much the degree tells us about the degree-holder's focus, determination, self-starting, and ability to see big projects through to the finish). ■ The labor market of late seems to have swung in the direction of credentialism: Depending on the role, a professional today may append a professional licensure, an academic credential, a fellowship, and a certification to their name -- making for a very long email signature block. ■ Thus a civil engineer may well advertise themselves as "Herbert Hoover, MS, PE, BCEE, LEED AP, PMP" (signifying a master of science degree, a professional engineering license, a board certification as an environmental engineer, a certification in green building, and a certification in project management). ■ The fork into certifications is in no small part a consequence of our dependence on computing. Computer experts could afford to be generalists 30 years ago, but today, the work of a Microsoft Certified Azure Network Engineer Associate is nothing like being a Certified Information Professional, and neither one really corresponds with being a Full-Stack Web Developer. ■ Possession of a very specific computer-related certification may tell potential job recruiters more than "Bachelor of Science in Networking and System Administration" -- even though the four-year degree may very well have included all of the relevant training. ■ So that's what spills over into the rest of the labor market: An exploding array of certifications, credentials, and now micro-credentials, all of which are intended to specify particular tools the holder knows how to use. Some are decidedly more authentic than others. Higher education tends to be very slow to revise curricula, yet technologies and performance requirements in many if not most sectors are changing quickly enough to make old courses rapidly obsolete. ■ Given the current backlash against the costs of college, a swing of the pendulum away from degree requirements (and towards certifications) is probably here to stay for a while. But then it will probably swing back and harmonize the two -- especially as colleges and universities realize that their futures depend upon delivering a package of knowledge and experience that is more valuable as a whole than just the sum of a set of stackable credentials. When that day comes, there's a good chance that many or most of the highly-desirable occupations will require both a college degree and a set of non-degree credentials. Email signature blocks are bound to grow even longer.

Computers and the Internet Facebook's current stats

3 billion users and a $1.2 trillion market valuation. And despite all the time people spend scrolling, "news makes up only 3% of what people see on it", according to The Economist. And at Facebook, only one voting shareholder decides everything: In the words of the company's own annual report, "Mark Zuckerberg, our founder, Board Chair, and CEO, is able to exercise voting rights with respect to a majority of the voting power of our outstanding capital stock".

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