Degrees are less important than skills, attitude


Most Americans have grown up in factory-styled public education designed to conform students to a bureaucratic vision of what it takes to be a good worker. This devalues individualism and creativity and shuns nonbureaucratic systems and ways of thinking. The U.S. Department of Education isn’t focused on preparing humans to think for themselves, but to successfully fit into and rely upon an existing system of commerce equally dependent on government bureaucracy.

Successful entrepreneurs and business owners, however, more often buck that conformity because creativity and adaptability are specifically two of the most important qualities required to successfully launch, systemize and expand a thriving business.

Inflated degrees are becoming less important

Americans love degrees, despite the increasingly poor return-on-investment degrees provide. Between a heavy handed educational lobby fighting for government funds and a cultural worship of higher education, and the descent of American excellence into counting inputs instead of valuing output (known as “boxchecking”), the widespread dependence on credentials has replaced the traditional skill of assessing value on its own merits.

Back in 2014, Forbes reported that American over-dependence on supposed credentials have created problems the market is now moving to correct.

After the government started vigorously promoting “access” to college, however, something changed in the labor market: credential inflation. Employers, facing a market in which more and more job applicants had college credentials, began to screen out those who didn’t. (One reason for that was the Supreme Court’s 1971 ruling in Griggs v. Duke Power, the subject of this Pope Center paper. That decision made aptitude testing legally dangerous for employers, so they increasingly turned to using college credentials as a proxy.)

Professors James Engell and Anthony Dangerfield noted this trend in their 2005 book Saving Higher Education in the Age of Money, writing, “(T)he United States has become the most rigidly credentialized society in the world. A B.A. is required for jobs that by no stretch of imagination need two years of full-time training, let alone four.”

George Leef, College Degrees Aren’t Becoming More Valuable — Their Glut Confines People Without Them To A Shrinking, Low-Pay Sector Of The Market

In 2021, Harvard Business Review reported that companies have begun to change their hiring practices due both to a lack of candidates qualified by traditional programs like college and a new emphasis on passion and other forms of education that get works the skills actually needed to get the job done.

In today’s hiring landscape, you don’t need to count yourself out of the running if you don’t have a degree. What’s more important is to show that you’re driven, passionate, and possess the skills that the workforce needs. Recruiters are now turning to social media to learn about potential candidates, so don’t be afraid to meet them there and demonstrate how you’d be an excellent fit — degree or not.

Jeff Mazur, You Don’t Need a College Degree to Land a Great Job

Ontop of that, companies are focusing less and less on degrees compared to intent and commitment. A recent study (PDF) by Harvard Business Review and The Burning Glass Institute concluded:

Removing barriers that allow more aspiring workers to qualify for goodpaying jobs without investing four years in a degree is an essential step in reducing inequity in the American labor market. Decreasing degree requirements will open opportunities for a more diverse and inclusive workforce, especially in the middle skills positions, which many non-degree holders are well-qualified to occupy through experience.
Rethinking the use of blunt filters like degree attainment will also be essential to companies demonstrating meaningful improvement in their levels of diversity and inclusion.

The Emerging Degree Reset (PDF)

While degrees and formal education may be vital for jobs like neurosurgeon or mechanical engineering, overdependence on credentialing appears to be on the decline, which is good news for workers who both wish to avoid government-induced high education costs and time wasted getting a degree which may have no real impact on income or career stability.

Success comes from skills college can’t teach

Businesses thrive through two key skills: consistency and adaptability. The first is about an attitude, the second about the willingness to meet reality as it is and creativity to solve its inherent and everpresent problems. Neither consistency nor adaptability are taught in colleges.

First, consistency is a value first and best learned at home with the family. Parents willing to push their children through challenging life lessons can instill “grit,” defined by Merriam-Webster as: “firmness of mind or spirit unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger.” Grit means the ability to commit to a goal without succumbing to the stresses of challenges and failure. Early visions in business never succeed their blueprint — they change over time due to an initial idea meeting the multifaceted and often-changing landscape of reality.

Contrary to common expectations, intelligence and “ability” are far less important than a dogged determination to overcome obstacles in pursuit of specific goals.

It turns out that intelligence might not be the best indicator of future success. According to psychologist Angela Duckworth, the secret to outstanding achievement isn’t talent. Instead, it’s a special blend of persistence and passion that she calls “grit.”

Duckworth has spent years studying people, trying to understand what it is that makes high achievers so successful. And what she found surprised even her. It wasn’t SAT scores. It wasn’t IQ scores. It wasn’t even a degree from a top-ranking business school that turned out to be the best predictor of success. “It was this combination of passion and perseverance that made high achievers special,” Duckworth said. “In a word, they had grit.”

Lisa Quast, Why Grit Is More Important Than IQ When You’re Trying To Become Successful

Second, adaptability is the merger of a keen understanding of the true nature of market demand and customer desires, and the ability to craft a solution that meets those desires so that it exceeds the quality, timeliness and/or convenience of existing solutions.

While intelligence can contribute to adaptability, it, alone, won’t carry you through the setbacks inherent to every business. Making a decision, persevering through those inevitable pivots and taking the time to study and meet the needs of a chosen customer base is more likely to produce a highly profitable outcome than “certifications” and/or college educations.

Customers don’t care about credentials

When is the last time you asked the salesperson at Best Buy if the designer of your TV or game console had a college education? How about someone who designed your logo or the app you use to monitor your credit score? Your plumber or car mechanic?

Degrees have a place in society — I would personally prefer my doctor to be degreed and the building I work in to be designed by someone with a master’s in engineering or better — but most things I buy on a daily basis never require an inquiry into the provider’s educational background. What most customers care about is the value of the service or product they intend to buy and how well other customers enjoyed your product and/or service.

Visit a product on Amazon or look through reviews on Google My Business and few people complain the company didn’t have “degrees up on the wall,” but whether the provider actually produced the service or product they promised.


Workers need not focus on college unless their career has a specific requirement for hyperspecialized forms of college-based training, such as surgeons, rocket scientists, engineering and the like. Whether applying for jobs or seeking to own, build and grow their own forms of employment, workers should know that degrees aren’t the cure-all that public education and greater education lobby purports them to be.

Degrees have a place in society, but their importance has become inflated by a cronyist education system bent on subsidizing its ever-expanding bureaucratic luddism instead of meeting a hyper-accelerating skills demand due to vast technological and cultural change in the United States.

Though scary, it’s ever more important for workers to leave the aged system and forge their own piece of the ever-expanding economic pie in ways that can produce greater wealth and personal satisfaction than ever before seen in history.