U.S. Too Focused on Four-Year Degrees, LinkedIn CEO Says

Posted By Terri Williams on February 7, 2017 at 8:38 am
U.S. Too Focused on Four-Year Degrees, LinkedIn CEO Says

At a recent Recode Enterprise conference, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner discussed the country’s need for skilled workers. “Historically here, there’s been a tremendous amount of weight that’s been given to four-year university degrees and not nearly enough weight in my opinion is given to vocational training facilities and vocational training certifications,” Weiner told conference attendees.

He continued, “We would do much better if we stopped ensuring that everyone had to have a four-year degree to get certain types of jobs and started being open to the fact that there’s a much broader array of talents and skills and perspectives and experiences that people can be successful.”

In 2015, LinkedIn purchased Lynda.com, an online learning platform, for $1.5 billion. Since then, the company has launched LinkedIn Learning, which allows users to take online technical, business, and creative courses.

Perhaps Weiner’s comments were motivated, in part, by the company’s new venture. But maybe he is issuing a wakeup call to a degree-obsessed nation.

The rise of four-year degrees

Dr. Joe May, chancellor of the Dallas County Community College District, tells GoodCall® that several years ago, a high school diploma was all that was needed to secure a good job. “Today, however, everyone needs some college to qualify for jobs that pay a living wage — that’s important.”

But May says that there are several jobs that don’t require a four-year degree. “Professional certificates and associate degrees mean that community college graduates can earn credentials and begin careers with jobs that pay $40,000 to $50,000,” May says. “They can build successful careers, support their families and offer employers the skills needed to grow businesses and increase economic development.” A report by Georgetown University’s Center for Education and the Workforce revealed that some certificates can generate higher income than associate or bachelor’s degrees.

Well-intentioned family members have also contributed to the notion that students need a college degree. Mark Stoner, author of Blue Collar Gold and founder of Ashbusters Chimney Service, was recently featured on CNBC-TV’s series Blue Collar Millionaires. “For at least two generation, parents have said, ‘Go to school, get a degree, so you don’t have to work like me,’ and now we are seeing the repercussions of this advice,” Stoner tells GoodCall®.

Although the country needs blue collar workers, Stoner says this type of work has been seen as undesirable. “There is great pride and gratification in doing this type of work not to mention many of them pay comparatively to jobs with four-year degrees, yet we push our kids to stay away from it.”

In fact, Stoner says millions of blue collar jobs are not filled, yet there are millions more people unemployed. And he points to the student loan crisis as one result of the country’s obsession with four-year degrees, and notes that at least 15% of retirees are still paying student loan debt.

But not all of the blame for pushing students toward a bachelor’s degree lies with well-meaning friends and family members. Steve Rothberg, president and founder of College Recruiter, tells GoodCall®, “Another factor is the massive disparity in the marketing budgets of the often underfunded technical and vocational schools as compared to many of the private and even public four-year colleges and universities.” In fact, some students may be choosing the college with the best PR campaign instead of the best college for their needs.

Changing the conversation on four-year degrees

Rothberg believes in the value of an education, but he believes that individual preferences must be taken into consideration. “If you have the ability and willingness to do what it takes to become a physician, then enrolling in a technical or vocational school to learn a trade such as welding is unlikely to be a good use of your time or money; on the other hand, if your competencies, interests, and values point to a career as a welder, then enrolling in a four-year college or university is unlikely to be a good use of your time or money.”

Removing the stigma that surrounds trade careers can also make them more appealing options, according to Stoner. “We need to change society’s push to get all young people into four-year colleges or what some call the ‘one road to heaven’ approach that contributes to a shortage of skilled workers.”

He gives an example: “In schools we use terms like ‘alternative path’ or we call them ‘mid skill’ jobs . . . what young person wants to do that with their life?”

Instead, Stoner recommends stressing the opportunities in blue collar work that doesn’t require four-year degrees. “The fact that many people don’t know how or don’t want to repair or install anything means a big payday for those that do, and by leading and training technicians in this type of work, many people can create a business that can provide the lifestyle and future that they want.”

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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