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Study: Many Americans Experience Job Opportunity Loss for Not Having Academic Degree

At a time when the slumping U.S. economy has many worried about job security and advancement, it’s not unexpected that Americans would consider upgrading their skills through formal academic programs, completing degree programs they previously started but left unfinished, or seeking advanced degrees.

One recent study, highlighting the role that many believe formal education plays in the workplace, reports that almost one in five (19 percent) Americans — which amounts to roughly 40 million adults in the United States — say they know someone at their current or past job who has been passed over for a job because they didn’t have the right academic degree. One in 10 (10 percent) respondents say they themselves have been denied a job during their careers for not having a degree.

Released this month, the survey was commissioned for, a Web site published by EducationDynamics, a higher education recruitment, enrollment and retention services company based in Hoboken, N.J. Kelton Research, a Culver City, Calif.-based research firm, conducted the survey between July 17 and July 21, 2008 using an e-mail invitation and an online survey of 1,000 nationally representative respondents.

“The statistics from this study confirm what has widely been known. Not only is a degree critical to getting a job, but it is also key to advancing in one’s career. And given the current economic climate, a degree might be needed just to keep your job,” says Terrence Thomas, the executive vice president for marketing operations at EducationDynamics.

Other significant findings from the survey found that:

  • More Blacks than White Americans say they have been denied job opportunities because of a lack of a college degree. The study revealed that 25 percent of Black respondents reported they were denied either a job, promotion or a raise, compared to 13 percent of Whites.
  • Older workers are more aware of discrimination in connection to education attainment. More than a quarter (26 percent) of Americans ages 55 and older admit knowing about a person at work who was passed over for a promotion because they didn’t have a certain degree, in contrast to 15 percent of 18- to 54-year-olds.
  • Almost one in 10 (9 percent) Americans without a college degree reported they were denied a promotion because of their lack of education.

          “The message is loud and clear, that in today’s competitive job market, if you don’t have the right education others will pass you by,” Thomas says.

Although workers have been widely encouraged to seek college and advanced degrees as a means to secure their standing and possible advancement in the workplace, increasingly some scholars and advocates have questioned the extent to which degree attainment represents skills acquisition versus credentialing merely as a sorting mechanism. The perception that college degree attainment is largely a sorting mechanism for employers has led some to argue that colleges and universities are oversold as institutions to equip people with practical job skills.

“When an employer says we require a bachelor’s degree, it usually has nothing to do with what the content of the degree might be. They’re simply saying ‘we want to see that you’ve been through college as evidence that you’re trainable and reliable.’ They’re using the college degree as a proxy for certain characteristics that they think college degree holders generally have. And therefore what they’re doing is saying to people who could easily be trained to do many, many jobs ‘we won’t even consider you because we only want to consider people with college degrees,’” says George Leef, the vice president for research at the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in Raleigh, N.C.

Leef, the author of “The Overselling of Higher Education,” a 2006 research paper published by the Pope Center, anticipates that the debate over higher education’s disputed role in training the U.S. work force will continue as other scholars and thinkers, such as Dr. Charles Murray, question whether academic degree attainment functions in unfairly excluding people from opportunities because they cannot afford to go to college. This week, Murray, the controversial co-author of The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, publishes Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America’s School Back to Reality, which among its arguments contends that too many Americans are stigmatized socially and economically for not having attended college.

Nonetheless, organizations, such as EducationDynamics, are working to expand college education opportunities for working adults. EducationDynamics officials have established Project Working Mom, an education advocacy campaign that awards full scholarships to working mothers to help them overcome barriers of time, money and lack of encouragement to obtain a college education. Visitors to Project Working Mom ( can apply for a full scholarship to one of five participating online universities: American Sentinel University, Ashford University, Capella University, Everest University and Penn Foster College. The key component of their academic programs is that they are geared to working adults, according to EducationDynamics. The deadline to apply for a scholarship is Aug. 31

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