It takes a degree to be a file clerk

“The college degree is becoming the new high school diploma: the new minimum requirement, albeit an expensive one, for getting even the lowest-level job,” reports the New York Times.

At an Atlanta law firm, all the support staff are four-year graduates from paralegals, admins and file clerks to the $10-an-hour courier.

“College graduates are just more career-oriented,” said Adam Slipakoff, the firm’s managing partner. “Going to college means they are making a real commitment to their futures. They’re not just looking for a paycheck.”

Maybe they’re looking for a miracle. The law firm’s receptionist, who earns $37,000 a year, graduated from the Art Institute of Atlanta in 2011 with a degree in fashion and retail management. “I am over $100,000 in student loan debt right now,” said Megan Parker.

“Degree inflation” is increasing, reports the Times. Many “jobs that didn’t used to require a diploma — positions like dental hygienists, cargo agents, clerks and claims adjusters — are increasingly requiring one,” according to Burning Glass, a company that analyzes job ads.

Requiring a bachelor’s degree is a handy way to cut down on the huge pile of applications for every job, a recruiter tells the Times.

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  1. I wonder how much of this comes from the boomers’ love of anti-authoritarian appearances. (They’re not ACTUALLY anti-authoritarian, but they want to pretend that they are!) If you want to maintain the image of the office as one big happy team where we all do our jobs and work towards a common goal and like each other, then you need to hire people you’d be at least half interested in talking to at the office Holiday party. So the file clerk with a degree in Russian Lit fits better than the file clerk who is really organized and nice but couldn’t get math or write and so skipped out on college.

    I wonder if this is a cause or an effect of jobs substituting for family and friends for many young Americans. (Well, for those who HAVE jobs…)

  2. Companies are afraid of being accused of discrimination if they use aptitude tests. Therefore, the college degree is now a substitute.

  3. That (the title of the blog) is just wrong. I appreciate Deirdre’ and Elizabeth’s comments, but I must also add that colleges are also benefitting from this alarming trend.

  4. This is the result of watering down the high school diploma to the point that it’s nothing more than a certificate of attendance now – employers don’t trust them. So, the lowest education employers DO trust right now is the BA – and if that keeps getting watered down, we’ll eventually reach the point where employers won’t accept anything less than a Master’s degree (the new, watered down Master’s, that is) for even the most basic jobs! The more we water down curriculum and requirements in education at all levels, the worse it’s going to get…

  5. One would have to question the wisdom of going 100 grand in the hole to obtain a job which pays 37 grand a year, and this person will probably be paying off her student loan debt for the rest of her life.

    Unfortunately, companies think that college degree == better employee (which is utter nonsense). Some of the best people I’ve worked with in I.T. never finished high school, and had some college, but no formal degree or certifications.

    Requiring a college degree for being a file clerk or a courier is just plain idiocy. Those types of jobs used to be filled by short on the job training and in most cases, didn’t even need a high school diploma, or only a high school diploma.


  6. Not really clear from the article… but are they REQUIRING a college degree? Or is it just the case that they are getting so many applications from people who have a college degree, that when it comes to making a choice, they pick people with the degree? For example, in community college teaching, you need a M.S. degree. But there is a huge glut of PhDs being produced, that PhDs are flooding the community colleges with applications. The CCs don’t REQUIRE The PhD, but hey, if they got a 100 apps from people with PhDs, the applicants with only MS degrees will be out of luck.

    • Actually, the bulk of teaching in most community colleges and in 4 year colleges is done by adjuncts these days, and typically, while they’ll have a degree, depending on the material being taught, a SME (subject matter expert) is often brought in and is considerably cheaper than a full time asst/assoc/full professor (say about $3-4 grand for teaching a single course for a semester for a adjunct).

    • Mark Roulo says:

      I think it is clear from the article that they *DO* require a four year degree.

      Like other employers across the country, the firm hires only people with a bachelor’s degree, even for jobs that do not require college-level skills.

      This prerequisite applies to everyone, including the receptionist, paralegals, administrative assistants and file clerks. Even the office “runner” — the in-house courier who, for $10 an hour, ferries documents back and forth between the courthouse and the office — went to a four-year school.

      “College graduates are just more career-oriented,” said Adam Slipakoff, the firm’s managing partner. “Going to college means they are making a real commitment to their futures. They’re not just looking for a paycheck.”

      I think that this is stupid, but as this is what the article as written is claiming (and the quote from Adam Slipakoff supports this, although he doesn’t flat out state that they will only hire folks with a 4-year degree). Note that the article could be wrong …

      • did you expect something different, the whole idea of requiring college degrees cut down on the number of job applications they have to go though to fill the job.

        • Mark Roulo says:

          I don’t have *ANY* particular expectations regarding the hiring policies of various companies.

          That said … I’m on the hiring side of the desk occasionally (as a senior technical person, not as the actual manager). The technical folks at the company for which I work tend to write our job reqs to be *very* unconstrained. We’d rather wade through 3x or 5x more resumes rather than have a good candidate get weeded out (either by HR or by themselves).
          A few months ago we made a job offer to a young programmer without a 4-year degree because he seemed talented enough to get the job done.

      • Roger Sweeny says:

        The article clearly states that the *employers* do require a college degree. However, the article doesn’t say that the *jobs* require a college degree. In fact, the Slipakoff quote indicates that companies are using the degree as a screen for certain personal characteristics, not for anything the potential employee actually learned in college.

  7. Ivar Berg wrote of this phenomenon in his Education and Jobs: The Great Training Robbery . The situation has only gotten worse since the Supreme Court’s decision in the case Griggs v. Duke Power, which exposes companies to legal jeopardy if they use a test with racially disparate impact that is not specifically job-related. Today, companies farm the task of discrimination (racial or academic) out to the good socialist hypocrites who infest the tax-subsidized post-secondary schooling industry.

    • It’s not just that the test must be job-related. The way the EEOC interprets the rules, all tests have disparate impact. If you use a test, you will most probably have to prove in court that it’s job-related, against a legal team funded by the government. And if you lose, you have to pay the government’s legal costs, but there’s no reimbursement if you win. So never mind that literacy is an obvious requirement for a file clerk, it’s cheaper to require a college degree than to defend a literacy test in court.

      Smaller companies are more likely to hire the non-degreed (at lower pay). They can more readily rely on instinct (generally the owner is doing the hiring, and if he’s not good at it he won’t be in business long anyway) and ad-hoc substitutes for tests, credentials, and degrees. The effective standards may be severely biased, but that can’t be proven when they aren’t spelled out and the workforce is too small for statistical analysis.

      So the result is that hiring at the big firms is heavily tilted against the lower classes and rural kids (of any color) who are a little less likely to be qualified for the job but much less likely to complete a 4 year degree, while smaller firms are likely to be unconsciously hiring even fewer blacks than they would if they used those tests with “disparate impacts”.

  8. Boshenflower says:

    It baffles me to think about my grandfather’s career in comparison with job requirements today. He started out in a low-level position and, due to hard work and talent, he eventually became president of the company – and all of this without stepping foot on a college campus.

  9. Bill (another Bill) says:

    The employer is in a terrible position. You can’t use testing without extreme danger of being sued; and a high school diploma simply no longer indicates any degree of competence. (I’ve hired high school graduates who could not alphabetize files or deal with simple fractions).

    So, in an economy where any posted job gets a flood of applicants the natural tendency is to raise the bar to winnow down the flood of applicants.

    And, besides, where else are the BA’s in French literature and Sociology going to go?

    • Heh, I’ve seen college graduates who couldn’t handle fractions and/or writing reports either 🙂

      • Yes, but at least they can probably read the name on a file and recognize that Jones comes before Smith in the alphabet…

    • This is also a great way to keep miniorities from getting jobs that will allow them to mainstream into society. After all, only the white SES can afford college in the first place! And the few token blacks and hispanics allowed to show up to “make the process look good”…