college

A College Degree Isn’t Enough

An increasing number of employers have grown skeptical of traditional credentials.

When my daughter was recently invited to a job interview, she was told that she would also be given two tests of skills needed for the position she was seeking. She was puzzled because she had never encountered this before when applying for a job. Apparently, her degree and solid grades from a prestigious university had been sufficient.

Take Our Quiz: Will Your College Degree Pay Off?

“Not anymore,” I told her. An increasing number of employers have grown skeptical of degrees and other traditional credentials. Blame inflated grade-point averages and references who are sometimes less than candid about an employee’s performance.

That’s why many employers are testing applicants for various qualifications: personality, aptitude, specific skills and knowledge and, increasingly, analytical thinking. (Kiplinger's magazine has long given diagnostic tests to would-be copy editors and reporters, and we assign freelance stories to journalists who apply for writing positions—a paid audition for a full-time job.)

The trend toward employer testing is also fueled by a backlash against the high cost of four-year colleges and mounting student debt. Some people argue that if job applicants can demonstrate that they have the knowledge and reasoning skills an employer needs, what difference does it make where—or if—they went to college?

A similar attitude is driving the trend toward condensed, tailored education, such as vocational training or an associate’s degree from a community college. Concentrated post-graduate study leading to a certificate in a narrow field can be a substitute for a pricey master’s degree. My daughter changed careers in her late twenties by completing a one-year certificate program in graphic and Web design. That, plus interviewing successfully and performing well on two tests, landed her a new job.

New benchmarks. With a boom in non-conventional higher education—including distance learning and massive open online courses (MOOCs), whether free or tuition-based—there’s a growing need for tests on which applicants can demonstrate their smarts to employers.

Grad-school programs have long used the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) and its companion tests in math, the sciences and literature to rate students. But now employers are using those scores to assess job applicants, according to the Wall Street Journal. Anyone can take the GRE at any age, with any level of formal education, so some job hunters are proactively listing their scores on their résumés.

Another test that holds intriguing potential as a job credential for mentally demanding work is the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA), an online exam that was once administered mostly to students by colleges as an internal measure of their teaching methods. The CLA uses realistic hypothetical challenges to assess creative problem-solving. The student’s written answers are scored by both a human being and artificial-intelligence software (and sometimes by a second human).

A new version of this rigorous test (called CLA+) will permit students to report their scores to prospective employers. And in spring 2014, the CLA+ will be available to anyone who wants to take it.

A traditional college education confers value that cannot be measured by testing—for example, the emotional maturation that occurs between the ages of 18 and 22. And the degree is also a rough measure of a student’s perseverance.

But people of all ages and backgrounds are learning valuable things on their own, at work, through self-education and in courses taken outside of degree programs. If these skills can be assessed by testing, they should matter to employers as much as a college pedigree—or even more.

Most Popular

What Are the Income Tax Brackets for 2022 vs. 2021?
tax brackets

What Are the Income Tax Brackets for 2022 vs. 2021?

Depending on your taxable income, you can end up in one of seven different federal income tax brackets – each with its own marginal tax rate.
September 20, 2022
Your Guide to Roth Conversions
Special Report
Tax Breaks

Your Guide to Roth Conversions

A Kiplinger Special Report
February 25, 2021
What Is the Social Security COLA?
retirement

What Is the Social Security COLA?

Consumer prices have spiked this year, meaning a higher Social Security cost-of-living adjustment for 2023.
September 16, 2022

Recommended

3 Key Ways You Can Help a Child or Grandchild Pay for College
college

3 Key Ways You Can Help a Child or Grandchild Pay for College

Options such as 529 plans, education savings accounts and tax-free gifts can ensure you don’t carry a child’s student loan debt into your golden years…
September 16, 2022
Tax Breaks for College Finance with Kalman Chany
Paying for College

Tax Breaks for College Finance with Kalman Chany

Paying for (ever-pricier) college is a challenge that this consultant meets head on with highly specific guidance.
August 24, 2022
Tax Breaks to Help You Pay for College
Paying for College

Tax Breaks to Help You Pay for College

Everyone knows education is pricey and getting pricier. But not everyone knows about the tax relief available at all stages.
August 22, 2022
Grandparents: Now is the Time to Contribute to Your Grandkid's 529 Plans
529 Plans

Grandparents: Now is the Time to Contribute to Your Grandkid's 529 Plans

With new changes to the FAFSA process, you can “superfund” their college savings – without affecting their financial aid status.
August 15, 2022