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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Drop college mandates for jobs before the next $400 billion bailout

Forgiving student loans -- if it survives a legal challenge -- is estimated to cost $400 billion to $500 billion or more.

That means people who didn't go to college, perhaps because they didn't want to take out loans they couldn't repay, will subsidize the more advantaged. Colleges will be able to keep raising tuition, since future borrowers will assume their debts will be forgiven too.

"College for all" helped get us into this mess, writes Rick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. It's time for employers to stop requiring a college credential that's irrelevant to the job requirements.

Some borrowers make "dubious choices," such as "buying a fine arts or women’s studies degree from a pricey private school," he writes. But many have been told they must earn a degree to have a shot at a decent job.

. . . thousands of employers routinely use college degrees as a convenient way to screen and hire job applicants, even when the credentials bear no obvious connection to job duties or performance. Indeed, researchers from Harvard Business School have documented troubling “degree inflation,” with employers demanding baccalaureate degrees for jobs that don’t obviously require one. Employer preference for degrees has risen even for entry-level occupations, like IT help-desk technicians, where the job postings don’t include skills typically taught in college.

In a 1971 decision, Griggs v. Duke Power Company, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that employers can't use any test to screen job applicants if it has a "disparate impact" on minority groups, unless they can prove the test is directly job related and accurately predicts job performance.

Then the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) required a railroad company to drop strength tests for a job that required heavy lifting in favor of “alternative practices that have less adverse impact.”

But risk-averse employers found a loophole, Hess writes. They can make a degree a job requirement, using it as a signal of "baseline verbal, writing, and computational skills and social skills (such as the ability to turn in work and take direction)."

Requiring college degrees has disparate-impact implications, disproportionately screening out blacks and Hispanics, he writes. But it's easy and legal.

"College degrees should be treated no differently than other credentials or professionally devised employment tests," Hess argues. If it's not relevant to the job, it should not be OK.

If the federal government and its contractors dropped irrelevant degree requirements and governors followed suit, it could open up more than 10 million jobs, he writes, "catalyzing the marketplace for alternative hiring tools."

If the college degree were no longer to serve as a one-size-fits-all fast-pass to employment, colleges would have to work harder to make the case that they’re worth the time and money. That would be extraordinarily healthy for colleges and students, alike.

He also suggests letting job-seekers use federal student aid to earn "alternative credentials pursued through avenues such as apprenticeships, non-degree programs, and training partnerships." adds Hess.

Biden's executive order may not stand: It faces a legal challenge from six states and an individual.

To avoid lawsuits by banks, "the U.S. Department of Education has quietly changed its guidance around who qualifies" for debt relief, reports NPR. The move excludes more than 4 million borrowers with Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL) issued by banks but guaranteed by the federal government.

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