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Posted on Wed, May 8, 2013 : 12:08 p.m.

Do the jobs of the future require a college degree?

By Ben Freed

The fastest-growing jobs in America either do not require college degrees or shouldn’t, according to a story on Bureau of Labor Statistics data indicates that carpentry, home health aides and other “low-skill” jobs are among the fastest growing in the country. While many of these jobs require specific skills and smarts, a bachelor's degree is not a necessity.


Michigan students who graduated last Saturday will attempt to stand out in the crowd with their newly minted diplomas.

Daniel Brenner |

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, writing for Forbes, also asserts that some jobs that require applicants to have college degrees do not really need them at all. He uses “diagnostic medical sonographers” as an example of a profession that often requires college graduation but can in fact be be learned on the job. According to his narrative, the job does not require a degree or the large debt load that often accompanies one.

A recent New York Times article furthered the argument, showcasing a law firm and other areas where a college degree has become the new high school degree. A university diploma is now a basic entry requirement for even the most entry-level jobs.

According to the Washtenaw County Economic Forecast, many jobs openings in the area will be in skilled trades that do not require degrees, but diplomas will be necessary for the more competitive jobs in higher-wage sectors.

This “up-credentialing” by employers has led to even further disparity in both unemployment levels and salary levels between high school and college graduates. According to the Times article, the unemployment rate for job seekers with a bachelor’s degree or higher is 3.7 percent, less than half of the 8.1 percent unemployment rate for those with a high school diploma.

Ben Freed covers business for You can sign up here to receive Business Review updates every week. Reach out to Ben at 734-623-2528 or email him at Follow him on twitter @BFreedinA2



Thu, May 9, 2013 : 3:39 p.m.

With all of the occurrences of this particular 'meme' in this thread, I feel it merits some attention that the discussion of the job market in -this- decade is the subject of the day - the apparent industry moguls among us who entered the market in decades past had different expectations and opportunities. For an example of this, consider the nature of computer science/engineering in this decade, where one requires a bachelor degree and often several years of experience for jobs considered to be entry level, where in decades previous individuals without any accreditation functioned within, and even advanced, the field. The issue at hand is not whether one needs a degree to be intelligent or competent, but rather if having the opportunities associated with 'working your way up' and 'pulling up by your bootstraps' are still available without a ticket to ride. Perhaps it's just my view from the hill, but they are largely not. Not to say that I, personally, have any reason to complain about this. ;)


Fri, May 10, 2013 : 12:46 p.m.

How can you say... "it is far less likely than it has been before that someone can take a job in, say, production or tradeskills and reach a high level of accomplishment." And not be able to describe your idea of "a high level of accomplishment."? Straight forward question. I will agree that the job market in many areas dictates some kind of degree. But I refuse to go so far as to say that a degree is necessary in order to reach a high level of accomplishment. Partly because everyone's level of accomplishment should be measured by something that is not as tangible as a degree.


Fri, May 10, 2013 : 4:27 a.m.

I'll leave you to interpret what little value my meandering has as you like, I suppose, but I can say that I do mean to imply that it is far less likely than it has been before that someone can take a job in, say, production or tradeskills and reach a high level of accomplishment. You can't entirely disagree with the assertion that we are not a 'production nation' in the same way we once were, I feel. An enterprising carpenter could probably work his way to the top in an area with the right market for it, but in a country dominated by foreign goods and outsourced labor...? It seems like it's not entirely unreasonable for me to suggest that dream is waning, though admittedly it has not entirely died. As for what we should define making it as these days, I can't say I know a terribly large amount about 'the hill' or what the appropriate paycheck to determine that you've 'made something of yourself', but we've seen a bit of talk of top earning percentages and implications of captaining industries in this thread already, so I can only assume it must be pretty grandiose.


Thu, May 9, 2013 : 4:17 p.m.

"having the opportunities associated with 'working your way up' and 'pulling up by your bootstraps" Is your meandering intended to mean someone that works as a carpenter cannot work their way up or pull themselves up by their bootstraps? And by what standard do you decide if someone has worked their way up or pulled themselves up by their bootstraps? A large salary? Perhaps a $500,000 home on "the hill" ?


Thu, May 9, 2013 : 5:52 a.m.

Like some people have mentioned, it all depends on the job. Some jobs use skills you don't necessarily learn at college. People-skills, persuasion. Different trade skills can be obtained from apprenticeships and vocational schools. These people can be crazy-successful and live fulfilling lives with fulfilling jobs. I go to school for Chemical Engineering. Do I need college to teach me about heat exchange and mass transfer? Yes. There are too many different fields and concepts to learn about for someone to "take me under their wing" and "teach me the trade." One practicing engineer cannot teach me everything I need to know to successfully enter the field. Engineers are mass-produced with bachelors degrees to indicate that they have this base knowledge. I think the question is more... What kinds of jobs will be available in the future? I see technology as limitless, so certainly jobs there. Healthcare, of course. Aside from a few infrequent cases, these kinds of jobs require some base-knowledge that is too inefficient to teach one-on-one. What would a "trade school" for engineering be, anyway? Oh right, Engineering school.


Thu, May 9, 2013 : 12:31 p.m.

Very good post!


Thu, May 9, 2013 : 5:27 a.m.

Michigan's once-vaunted economic status is no more. And that former state of top economic performance was achieved: by 100s of thousands of "uneducated factory workers." I once worked part-time as a grocery store cashier. Particularly on weekends, we cashiers spent a lot of time teaching U of M students (the "future academic cream of the crop") how to swipe their credit cards in card readers and other "hard stuff" like that. We were successful largely because: we saw these young adults as kids away from home who didn't have their parents to deal with the fundamentals of real life for them. I don't mean this sarcastically: it's just a realist's view of what it's like to be away from home for the first time. Yet, time and again, I see U of M pushing the Gordon Gecko side of higher education. The Elites Worship is the hardest to take. It's not all that uncommon to find Ann Arbor residents who dislike U of M - for its "arrogance," specifically. There are many things to love about the University of Michigan (and all of its higher education "sisters"). But there's too much misguided elitism - mostly promoted and used by pretenders among the genuine educators.


Wed, May 8, 2013 : 11:58 p.m.

Not a clear cut answer. What is the difference between an Electrician and an Electrical Engineer? The Electrician places more value on working with their hands whereas the EE places more value on working with their mind. Both jobs require an in depth understanding of the same knowledge base, just applied a little differently. Either job may produce the higher income. One job requires a Bachelors degree while the other requires nearly identical knowledge but with other hands-on skills and is accompanied with perhaps an Associates degree. Both are equally important. There is no single correct answer to this question.


Thu, May 9, 2013 : 4:13 a.m.

So if I am an electrical engineer designing a CPU for use in a computer, I also need to know the National Electrical code on how to wire a house? These, in many cases are two different jobs with different focuses. We need both kinds of education to make the electrical world go round. An EE needs to know how and why a device works, while an electrician needs to know how a device works so it can be installed safely.


Wed, May 8, 2013 : 10:41 p.m.

Maybe we need to define "successful" . If having a $150,000 salary with a $900,000 mortgage, a $100,000 student loan and a drink every night to cope is your idea of successful then I suspect this town is full of successful people. On the other hand I think a salary of $50,000, your house paid for before you are 40, retired at 50 and absolutely no debt might be considered successful.

Laurie Barrett

Wed, May 8, 2013 : 9:53 p.m.

College is for knowledge. Post-high school training for jobs is technical education. Lots of "college" grads aren't college grads if you see what I'm saying.


Wed, May 8, 2013 : 9:36 p.m.

I just posted several openings on Linkedin for CAD designers, degree not required, that pay between $50k and 70K. We and our customers are struggling to find these highly skilled non-degreed people now, since many have either left the state, or changed careers during the recent automotive crash.


Wed, May 8, 2013 : 8:18 p.m.

Lots of incredibly successful people don't have college degrees and many jobs won't require college degrees. However, there is no question that more jobs in the future will require education beyond high school than we have today. There are ways to make college more efficient - students at the University of Michigan take classes for 32 months, why is that spread over four years. Community colleges can be a much more efficient feeder system into four year degrees. We can use technical training for more jobs than we do today, not necessarily require a four year degree. But there is simply no question that a higher percentage of jobs in the future will require more educational attainment than is the case today.


Wed, May 8, 2013 : 7:22 p.m.

Very good question, Ben. I would never tell a person to not go to college to get "a" degree. The reality is, in today's world the level playing field for a job begins with a college degree. What is going to replace the busted home-mortgage revenue stream? Probably the strongest reason the college requirement will never change is now the education system is so closely tied to the national economy through student loans in the banking system. This year there will be 1.8 million college graduates. If every student leaves school with 23k in loans that's $41 billion per year into the monetary system. Today there is 1.1 TRILLION in student debt. Requiring a college degree probably started as a genuinely good idea but if you're wondering when the requirement started watch the movie, "The Right Stuff". The government is the largest employer in the country and if they have a certain demand then society logically falls in line.


Wed, May 8, 2013 : 7:12 p.m.

I can see a day when Kroger requires a PhD financial instrument management to run a cash register, where a Carpenter needs a Masters Degree in structural construction, etc. Auto mechanics with PhDs in diagnostics electronics, etc... The question is, is this really a useful future?


Wed, May 8, 2013 : 10:33 p.m.

If you can "see a day " for those things you better have your eyes checked.

Linda Peck

Wed, May 8, 2013 : 7:01 p.m.

College should be for people who exactly want the type of education that Universities afford-scholarly efforts applied to literature, science, and arts, whether they want to apply this to a specific job or just love to learn. Much of my post-graduate school life has been in jobs that did not require my college degrees. Also, I really like tech schools and specific job-related coursework to learn employable skill sets. They can help people at all ages adapt to career and life changes.

Top Cat

Wed, May 8, 2013 : 4:46 p.m.

The answer to the question is of course not. But wouldn't you think that after earning a 4 years degree, a person would be able to fluently speak and not use the word "like" in every sentence?


Thu, May 9, 2013 : 6:29 a.m.

Agree TC...the other one is, "You know" in every other sentence.

Mr. Ed

Wed, May 8, 2013 : 4:42 p.m.

An education has no merit on ones ability to apply a task in a given job. I know alot of educated dumb people with no skill set. I know a few very wealthy $$ folks with no education beyound High School. Learning can be found in many different area's. The reason for the learning is to expand your thoughts and learn how to be a professional. Becoming a wll rounded person giving back to society. Many suscessful smart people never went to college.

Mr. Ed

Thu, May 9, 2013 : 3:10 a.m.

Perhaps this common spelling error began because there does exist in English a word spelled "allot" which is a verb meaning to apportion or grant. The correct form, with "a" and "lot" separated by a space is perhaps not often encountered in print because formal writers usually use other expressions such as "a great deal," "often," etc.

Michael Roth

Wed, May 8, 2013 : 5:18 p.m.

I agree. By the way, it's "a lot"

Ben Freed

Wed, May 8, 2013 : 4:27 p.m.

Perhaps the more intriguing question here is should the jobs of the future require a college degree? I know I can think of friends who have degrees who are doing jobs that don't need them and other friends and acquaintances who are "out kicking the coverage" and performing extremely well without degrees. Employers would have to figure out how to sort potential applicants without that basic benchmark though, which could prove extremely difficult.


Thu, May 9, 2013 : 4:52 a.m.

I started my successful business career with an interview like everyone else. I did't have a degree, I only had myself and what I could demonstrate in the way of enthusiasm and knowledge. I got paid FOR that interview and started work the next day. That employer: knew from just talking with me at length that I would become a real asset to that company. Maybe that's the way more employers should approach "picking the right prospect for the job." Besides, I know from my own observation: sometimes, the "degree" on the resume is just ink on paper.


Wed, May 8, 2013 : 6:05 p.m.

This link has a table of the number of bachelor degrees in each category from 1970-2010. Of them, I would say only things like architecture, science, education, engineering, and medicine related degrees are the only ones where a degree would go a long way in performing the tasks required of a job. College degrees for everyone sounds like a noble goal to strive for, but for most jobs they most definitely aren't needed and are not worth the 100k in loans to attain them. But with so many people with college degrees competing for jobs, you figure the applicant with the degree is more qualified and the applicant without one must have something wrong with them. With college loans so easy to get, most people opt to go to college having no idea what they want as a career so they study something they're interested in like sports management or political science or African American studies. In each individual's case, they'll likely get a bit better of a career than they would have without the degree, but society would likely be better off if most of these people didn't get degrees and the tens of thousands of dollars per person that go into them were allocated elsewhere. I think it'd do a lot more for social mobility if the job market wasn't saturated with college grads and a poorer person wouldn't need to commit to 4 years of school and a lifetime of debt to compete for a job. Much better than giving everyone the opportunity with federal scholarships and student loans and further hindering the people who don't go to college.


Wed, May 8, 2013 : 4:18 p.m.

A specific job may not require a degree, but the employer more often than not require you to have a degree to apply for the job. I see the problem more with business unwilling to train employes.


Thu, May 9, 2013 : 12:08 a.m.

Most times this is the case. Employers want you to have a law enforcement degree, nursing degree or what ever degree so they do not have to spend the money on you. Computers are also the fastest growing as well. This does require a 4 year degree. So does marketing. So yes and no. Depends on what you want to do in life and how much you want to make.

Dirty Mouth

Wed, May 8, 2013 : 4:18 p.m.

These days a Bachelor degree is the bare minimum entry fee to play the game.

Dirty Mouth

Thu, May 9, 2013 : 12:09 p.m.

Tesla, you are the exception to the rule (obviously).


Thu, May 9, 2013 : 4:46 a.m.

"to play the game"-??!! Really?! Which game is that? I know you mean "The Game of Employment" and that's a common wrong assumption. In addition to the jobs mentioned, there are tens of thousands of shop owners who do not have degrees but DO have first option on profits and DO have employees with degrees. I also know: people with degrees who have had to move from Michigan to get a decent job. Their degrees were NOT in obscure areas or niche skills areas. I also know people who actually avoided college because taking 4 years to become "educated" wasn't necessary and just delayed getting a job which led to rapid advancement to the executive level. I think you're just a victim of advertising by the likes of U of M and other "higher education" institutions. Don't believe everything you read in the news. ;-)


Wed, May 8, 2013 : 10:29 p.m.

Telsa nailed it.It depends on what game you are playing.


Wed, May 8, 2013 : 8:14 p.m.

Depends on what game you want to play. I never went to college. I barely went to high school (mostly to pick up messages...) and I graduated high school with a 1.857. I won't say how much I earn every year but I am in the top three percent of earners in this country. I run my own company and have some basic vocational type training if you will and some on the job training to prepare me for my own entry and success in the business world. Drive, passion, hard work, dedication, organization, and fundamentals are way more important than a degree and they can't be taught for the most part.