The stigma challenge continues

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Despite the kudos community colleges garner for serving as lynchpins for workforce development, they continue to face stigmas among employers and students, even affecting graduates’ confidence to apply for certain jobs, according to a new report by Cengage.

Two-year college graduates are less likely to secure a job at graduation than four-year graduates (22% versus 29%, respectively). But the report noted that is not surprising since 35% of all jobs require a bachelor’s degree to apply. Some college advocates have long questioned if a four-year degree is really needed to do certain jobs or if it is just an employer’s preference or perceived prestige.

“Given 2-year graduates have been taught more career-focused skills and take on the same level of internships as their peers, this indicates that outside factors such as bias toward graduates with a 2-year degree could be limiting job opportunities,” the report said.

“Employers need to rethink archaic hiring standards,” Michael Hansen, CEO of the global education technology firm, said in a release. “A traditional degree path is not a reality for many Americans, and four-year degree requirements can penalize applicants who follow untraditional education paths. By prioritizing skills not just degrees, business leaders have an opportunity to remove existing barriers, helping to close labor shortages and boost our economic recovery.”

Perception about degrees

The report — based on a spring survey of 1,600 U.S. working adults polled about their required jobs skills and return-on-investment for attending two- and four-year colleges — noted that almost one in three graduates said they didn’t need their degree to perform their first job. In fact, 58% said employers should stop requiring degrees for most jobs.

Still, 83% would recommend getting a degree or certification to work in their career field. But when it came to suggesting a type of education for someone pursuing a job in their field, they generally snubbed two-year degrees.

“In fact, 4-year graduates were just as likely to recommend not pursuing higher education at all [8%] as they were to recommend a 2-year degree [9%],” the report said.

While the data shows that two-year graduates are just as prepared — if not more prepared — to enter the workforce, recent graduates still seemingly perceive two-year degrees as less valuable forms of education, the report added.

The survey did find that almost two in three participants said their college needed to focus more on credentials. Despite completing a two- or four-year program, graduates believe acquiring more licensing would help them compete for jobs, the report said. In fact, graduates are more than twice as likely to pursue training or credentialing instead of another degree, it added.

The stigma may be holding back some job applicants. Half of the recent grads didn’t apply for jobs because they felt underqualified, the report said. While four-year grads were concerned they didn’t have the right skills, degree stigma contributed to two-year grads’ fear that their academic merit didn’t measure up, the report said. More than one-quarter (26%) of two-year program graduates who said they didn’t apply for a job said they felt inadequate because current employees at the company had higher degrees than they did or had certifications that they didn’t have.

“This has stymied diverse hiring by discouraging entire pools of capable talent from applying to open jobs,” it added.

More help from colleges

Nearly 40% of those polled said they didn’t feel like college helped them land their first job, though the sentiment was stronger among graduates of four-year programs (42% compared to 32% among two-year graduates). When asked if colleges should be held accountable for helping them find a job, 60% said yes.

Adding real-work experience and experiential learning into the college curriculum would go a long way in creating career-ready graduates, according to the report. About one-third (32%) of graduates said they didn’t have an internship — 31% of two-year grads and 34% of four-year grads — and 64% indicated it would have helped them get a job.

Unfortunately, one in three graduates (32%) didn’t have an internship in college because they couldn’t afford to take a job without pay (30%), it wasn’t required (25%) or taking care of their family and balancing their course load made it too difficult to juggle (22%).

“As colleges continue to improve and create career-ready students, they should consider revising curricula to include basic business courses, find ways to provide greater access to mentors or working professionals, and create associations or working groups that can make introductions to local businesses who would hire students,” the report said.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily and serves as publications director for the American Association of Community Colleges.