In recent developments across the United States, a significant shift is underway regarding the value and necessity of college degrees. At the heart of this transformation are legislative and executive efforts aimed at reevaluating the traditional emphasis on bachelor’s degrees for job eligibility. Amidst these governmental actions to potentially limit employer’s ability to require a bachelor’s degree, a new question is also arising: are college degrees becoming obsolete? With industry giants like Google and Apple moving away from stringent degree requirements, and figures like Gary Vaynerchuk challenging the traditional valuation of college education, the debate intensifies. This article delves into these pivotal changes, exploring the evolving landscape of employment qualifications, the role of legislation in shaping hiring practices, and the ongoing discourse on the relevance of college degrees in today’s workplace.

1. Federal “Opportunity to Compete Act” proposed bill.

On the federal level, in October 2023, a bill was introduced by Representatives Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) and John James (R-Mich.) to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to prohibit large employers from utilizing automated systems from automatically discarding applicants without a bachelor’s degree.  The bill is termed the “Opportunity to Compete Act” would prohibit employers from using computerized hiring systems that discard applicant who do not have a bachelor’s degree, but would permit the applicant to substitute years of experience, community college, and training programs in lieu of a four-year degree. 

While not law at this time, the proposed bill illustrates the considerations by legislators regarding potentially regulating this issue. 

2. California Executive Order to remove any degree requirements that are not related to the job duties for State positions.

In California, Governor Newsom signed an Executive Order in August 2023, that directed the California Department of Human Resources to update its policies to ensure that any state position that requires a bachelor’s degree “remains a job-related educational requirement, explicit analysis of whether a bachelor’s degree is necessary for successful performance in the position and, if it is determined necessary, supporting data that demonstrates the necessity.”  The Executive Order only applies to state jobs, the measure is indicative of the consideration being given to the topic by legislators.

3. Are college degrees becoming obsolete anyway?

Is legislation required to address this issue?  There are trends already in the workforce where employers are not requiring college degrees.  For example, large employers such as Google, Bank of America, and Apple are moving away from requiring college degrees. 

Gary Vaynerchuk is vocal on this point, and has been making the case for a few years now that college degrees are becoming obsolete.  Vaynerchuk points out, “You can get better “courses” on the internet and you can take that money and travel the world for 40k as an eighteen year old. Plus, you would really learn…the big argument is, you grow up in college and you meet people. As if that’s the only way one gets life experience and meets people. I think if you’re crafty as shit, there’s a way better way to spend 50,000 dollars a year.”

Vaynerchuk makes a valid point that where someone attend school is becoming less relevant today, “I have no clue where some of my employees went to school. If they all said community college, or they didn’t go at all, or they went to Harvard–it all would have landed the same way.”

4. Companies should be the final arbiter for requirements to work for them. 

I do not agree with any legislation that would attempt to regulate what standards an employer sets for its workforce.  It is too subjective to effectively legislate anyway – I could make the case that a college degree is required for nearly almost any job that requires the use of a computer.  On the other hand, one could argue that nearly everyone coming out of high school understands how to use a computer, or could learn the required skills on YouTube, and this should not be a requirement.  It is just too subjective – and employers should be the final arbiter of what they require from their workforce. 

5. My stance on college: Everyone that has the desire should attend but keep costs as low as possible. 

I believe college degrees are still important to have.  I’ve changed my position on college degrees a lot over the last few years, and can see the argument that a degree is not necessary in today’s economy.  However, I still think that the generation that is making the hiring decisions still value applicants having a college degree.  But the exception to this is, like Vaynerchuk mentions above, where someone received their degree does not matter.  Unless someone has a clear path in mind to attend law school, medical school, or obtain some other advance degree, young students need to obtain a degree with as little to no dept as possible.  The fact that students cannot declare bankruptcy against school debt is insane, and illustrates how serious this debt will be for students for the rest of their lives.  Large amounts of college debt will limit a person’s opportunities and likely force them to remain in jobs they do not like or limit their ability to take a risk and start their own company.  The cost-benefit analysis for attending college that requires loans of more than $20,000 a year is quickly changing.  Many people are realizing that obtaining a bachelor’s degree through a community college with no debt has more advantages than a student with $250,000 of debt from a notable college.