Governor Shapiro Leads the Nation on Eliminating College Degree Requirements, Expanding Job Opportunities
March 01, 2023
Following Gov. Shapiro’s announcement, other states announced they would be taking action to eliminate college degree requirements for state jobs.
HARRISBURG, PA –Governor Josh Shapiro is leading the way on opening the doors of opportunity to more people and expanding our workforce. Since the Governor signed an executive order removing four-year college degree requirements for most state government jobs, Georgia’s state senate and the state of Alaska have followed suit.
Governor Shapiro was one of the first governors to take action to remove degree requirements, joining the governors of Maryland, Colorado, and Utah, who have implemented similar policies. In addition to seeing other states take action to expand opportunities for workers, Governor Shapiro’s executive order action has garnered bipartisan support here in Pennsylvania, with Republicans and Democrats lauding this action:
- Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman: “Governor Shapiro’s Executive Order to expand employment opportunities for positions throughout state government is a step in the right direction.”
- Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa: “Every Pennsylvanian deserves a good safe job they can raise a family on. I am so proud Governor Shapiro has removed degree requirements, getting rid of barriers to good jobs for working people. As we continue to create new economic opportunities for our commonwealth, we must ensure those opportunities are available to everyone, regardless of their age, race, faith, education, or ZIP code. I look forward to building on this excellent and necessary first step, and I’m grateful to Governor Shapiro for his efforts.”
Both the Wall Street Journal and New York Times Editorial Boards praised Governor Shapiro’s leadership on this issue, with the NYT ed board calling it “good policy and good leadership” and encouraging other states to follow his example.
Governor Shapiro believes everyone in Pennsylvania deserves a fair shot, and that government should serve the people – that’s why during his first month in office, he also took action to improve the Commonwealth’s licensing and permitting processes and to make it easier for workers and businesses to apply online.
Read more about Governor Shapiro’s executive order and how other states are following the Governor’s lead to eliminate barriers to employment below.
On his first full day in office, Gov. Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, signed his first executive order, removing a four-year degree requirement for tens of thousands of state government jobs.
Shapiro — who took the oath of office on Tuesday with Lt. Gov. Austin Davis — said the order applies to 92% of commonwealth jobs, estimating that roughly 65,000 positions in the state will be open to Pennsylvanians regardless of whether they hold a college degree.
“In Pennsylvania, the people should decide what path is best for them, not have it decided by some arbitrary requirement or any arbitrary limitation,” Shapiro said during a public signing ceremony on Wednesday.
Along with the executive action, Shapiro ordered all executive branch agencies to emphasize skills and experience during the hiring process and launched a review of the remaining 8% of jobs that still require a four-year degree. The administration also opened a new website that lets applicants search and filter state government job openings based on degree requirements.
“Pennsylvania government should be a place where every single person has the opportunity to serve and to succeed,” Davis said. “This is a significant step in tearing down barriers for employment here in Pennsylvania.”
Last week, in his first executive order, Pennsylvania’s new governor announced that 92 percent of state government jobs will no longer require a four-year college degree. Governor Josh Shapiro’s heartening move means that 65,000 state jobs no longer require a college degree, but that candidates will be free to compete for these positions based on skills, relevant experience, and merit. Shapiro’s move follows similar actions taken by Republicans, like former Maryland governor Larry Hogan, hinting at a burgeoning, bipartisan push to temper the role of college degrees in American life.
Today, too many Americans feel compelled to pursue a college degree, whether they want to or not. Why is that? Well, employers increasingly require that applicants for “good” jobs possess a degree, even when the degrees aren’t relevant to the job, and employers say they’re skeptical that college grads are even prepared for work.
Overthrowing the college degree as a one-size-fits-all fast pass to employment is good for everyone. It gives states access to a broader pool of candidates, including those with practical experience or those who couldn’t afford to go to college, while giving would-be students more freedom to decide whether to pursue a degree.
Gov. Shapiro explained his action last week, saying, “Every Pennsylvanian should have the freedom to chart their own course and have a real opportunity to succeed. They should get to decide what’s best for them – whether they want to go to college or straight into the workforce – not have that decided for them.”
That’s very well said. College can be a very good thing. That’s not at issue. But an inconsistent judicial standard and comfortable employer routines ought not oblige Americans to buy a very expensive piece of paper. Here’s hoping more governors will follow Governor Shapiro’s lead.
What is college actually for?
No one expected this to be the initial question raised by Pennsylvania’s new governor, Josh Shapiro, in his first full day on the job. While he may not have stated it explicitly, this was the essence of the Democrat’s very first executive order, which opened up some 92% of job listings in state government — about 65,000 in all — to applicants who don’t have a four-year college degree.
In branding degree requirements for many jobs as “arbitrary” and declaring “there are many different pathways to success,” the Keystone State’s new chief executive was tugging at the shaky Jenga block that has undergirded the appalling rise of a $1.75 trillion student debt bomb in the U.S. and led, arguably, to a college/non-college divide driving our nation’s bitter politics. The notion is this: You can’t make it in 21st-century America without that most expensive piece of sheepskin: the college diploma.
Experts call it “credentialism” — a trend that began around the 1970s and kept accelerating — for company job recruiters to require a bachelor’s degree even for jobs (from IT specialist to, yes, newspaper reporter) that may not really need one. Millions of young Americans may not know the term “credentialism,” but the concept is baked into their brain, from their teen SAT prep classes to get into the “right school,” to their monthly debt payments that can drag onto into middle age and well beyond.
Shapiro’s executive order this month sped up a reversal that is only gaining steam. Maryland’s then-governor, Larry Hogan (R), imposed a similar rule last year, and a growing number of big companies — including IBM, Google, and Apple — are on the cutting edge of a movement to yank degree requirements for most jobs while pumping up the role of shorter, much less expensive programs to instead gain certificates for key skills.
In his first move as governor of Pennsylvania, Democrat Josh Shapiro signed an executive order abolishing four-year-degree requirements for the vast majority of state government jobs. “Effective immediately, 92% of state government jobs — about 65,000 positions — do not require a four-year college degree,” he announced on Twitter. According to the executive order, state government “job postings will begin with equivalent experience needed in lieu of a college degree whenever possible.”
It’s a great idea.
The growth in the share of U.S. jobs that require a four-year college degree is partially owing to a broader shift away from physical-labor-based industries and toward information and knowledge economies. But it’s also due to a misguided, and often toxic, cultural and political trend toward viewing college degrees as a prerequisite for participation in American public life. Among technocrats on both the center-right and center-left, there’s often a flawed assumption that a central goal of U.S. education policy should be to get as many young Americans as possible into four-year programs, rather than to open up other pathways and models for success.
That assumption is reinforced by the ballooning of credentialism — often called “degree inflation” — in the American workforce. In the United States today, there is a massive swath of middle-management, white-collar jobs with unnecessary degree requirements. As of 2021, just 37.9 percent of Americans over the age of 25 held a bachelor’s degree. But a 2017 Harvard Business School study, which examined “more than 26 million job postings,” reported “that employers were increasingly inflating the educational requirements for jobs usually held by high school grads” — and “in many cases, qualified candidates never even got the chance to apply for a position.” In total, according to the study, “as many as 6.2 million workers could be affected by the practice of degree inflation.”
Of course, government jobs are only one part of the workforce. But Shapiro just opened 65,000 jobs to Pennsylvanians without a four-year degree — some 63 percent of the state population, as of 2016. This is an easy, obvious political win on numerous levels: The move lifts artificial barriers to entering the workforce, expands opportunity, and subsequently grows the economy by opening up (often well-paying) jobs to those who would have otherwise been boxed out. On a more fundamental level, it eliminates a basic unfairness that has led to a two-tiered class system.
I believe as fervently as anyone in the value of a four-year college degree not just as a path to professional opportunity but also as preparation for informed, thoughtful citizenship. I’ve written extensively about that, and I wouldn’t take back a word.
But I also believe that this particular credential has become too divisive an emblem in our culture wars, too bold a fault line. For that reason among others, I’m impressed and excited by what Josh Shapiro, the newly installed Democratic governor of Pennsylvania, just did.
On Jan. 18, his first full day in office, Shapiro signed an executive order that dispensed with the requirement of a four-year college degree for 92 percent of positions in state government, meaning roughly 65,000 jobs. His action rightly recognized that such a degree is no guarantee of competence, no exclusive proof of intelligence and often less relevant than work and life experiences that have nothing to do with lecture halls.
But it recognized, too, ways in which the Democratic Party is vulnerable, and it sent an important message to voters who feel that the party doesn’t see or have much regard for them.
Utah and Maryland made similar changes to their employment practices last year. But those states had Republican governors. That a Democrat followed suit in Pennsylvania — a much bigger political stage, with a much larger population — matters. Democrats have been wounded by charges of elitism over recent years, and Shapiro’s executive order is a forceful rebuttal of the Republican caricature of his party as the protector of a corrupt meritocracy that demands an expensive, radicalizing adventure in the woke precincts of higher education.
Alaskans will no longer need a four-year college degree to apply for some state jobs under a new order issued by Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R).
Dunleavy announced the degree requirement changes in an order issued earlier this week.
The order directs Alaska’s Department of Administration to review state job descriptions and determine where practical experience could be used in lieu of the four-year college degree requirement typically asked of applicants.
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After the review, state job postings will be changed to state that relevant experience can be used instead of a college degree.
A Georgia Senate committee is advancing a bill that would instruct an agency to examine qualifications for state government jobs and not require a college degree unless truly necessary.
The Senate Government Oversight Committee on Monday voted for Senate Bill 3, sending it to the full Senate for more debate.
The bill calls for the state Department of Administrative Services to try to reduce training, experience and educational requirements for jobs and reduce jobs that require a four-year college degree.
Sen. John Albers, a Roswell Republican sponsoring the measure, said that the reexamination is needed.
“Where we used to mandate a college degree for almost everything, now we’re looking at that differently, either through technical school or certifications,” Albers said.
Georgia would be one of a number of states to make the move. Others who have done so include Maryland under Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and Colorado among Democratic Gov. Jared Polis. It’s a reaction to difficulties in attracting workers in a tight labor market, the high cost of college, and Republican distrust of the ideological effects of college education.