Everyone’s path toward higher education is different, and not everyone can reach it. But even when students graduate, many struggle with getting a chance from employers. Although many business leaders perceive a four-year degree requirement as something that should be normal and expected, that shouldn’t be the case.
We might be living in 2023, but higher education is still not as affordable and accessible to everyone as it should be. In fact, in a time when global growth is projected to fall from an estimated 3.4 percent in 2022 to 2.9 percent in 2023, it might be more out of reach than in the recent past.
According to Morning Consult, more than three in four Americans believe college is difficult to afford, especially minority groups and those from vulnerable backgrounds. Another survey found that 75 percent perceive college costs as their most significant barrier in pursuing higher education, while 62 percent said they must start to work immediately.
And although community college enrollment levels have finally started to stabilize after the steep pandemic losses, the situation is still not ideal. Thus, even when people decide to wrestle with this challenge and attend community college despite all the difficulties, they often encounter additional problems after graduating.
One of the hardest to beat hardships is not finding safe and decent employment that matches their degree or specialization. And that often happens because employers are biased toward community college students.
How Do Employers Perceive Community College Candidates?
Although it’s not a rule that applies to every employer, and many local businesses still prioritize recruitment from community colleges (84 percent), The Partnership Imperative report found that, at large, they don’t perceive these graduates as workforce-ready. Overall, only 62 percent agree or strongly agree that community colleges produce work-ready candidates.
That implies that although employers don’t necessarily avoid employing these graduates, there’s a deep-seated bias that forces them to believe these job applicants are not the best match for their business needs and aspirations. Even though community colleges have historically been the portal that produces a workforce for middle-skills jobs, business leaders are no longer convinced that’s the best talent they can hire.
As a result, many are turning to automation, the open market, and headhunting agencies. In general, employers are not sure that community college graduates have the right set of skills, especially in terms of technical and foundational abilities necessary for a fast-evolving tech world.
That often prompts them to invest in a more advanced technology that can streamline their tasks, mitigating the need for human employees. But by doubting the capabilities of community college graduates and relying on tech tools and machines to get work done, they exacerbate the middle-skills gap they would like to close.
Impossible Requirements And Prioritization of Four-Year Degrees
And even when employers are not turning to external recruitment and artificial intelligence, they often confront entry-level candidates with demands that don’t always match the competencies needed to perform the job effectively. According to Intelligent’s 2022 survey, 84 percent of hiring managers say the higher education institution a candidate attended is a ‘very important’ or ‘important’ factor.
The same survey found that 71 percent are more likely to move forward with a candidate who attended a top-tier school, while 66 percent favor job applicants who attended their own alma mater. These preferences often stem from recruiters’ beliefs that candidates from top-tier schools are more likely to be better employees.
And not only that. – 63 percent of recruiters are more willing to meet a job applicant’s compensation requirements if they attended a top-tier school or a four-year degree college. However, recruiters and hiring managers who have invested more in their higher education or are new to their jobs are more likely to pay attention to candidates’ education levels.
U.S. News & Report talked with multiple recruiters in 2022 for a piece about the advantages and disadvantages of an associate degree. One of their interviewees, Ken McQueen, a recruiter from the oil and gas industry, said that companies within these industries are highly appreciative of associate degree holders but admitted that hiring managers and upper management often have an unfavorable perception toward these candidates.
McQueen explained that these professionals typically have a four-year degree and want to see the same in their employees. Another interviewee, Ro W. Lee, associate director for career and professional development at Claremont Graduate University in California, said that community colleges tend to have less prestige and less degree options, resulting in less earning potential and a lower ceiling for managerial positions. Lee added that’s like an elevating list – the higher degree you have, the more earning potential you have.”
McQueen also mentioned that his clients preferred candidates with bachelor’s degrees over those with associate degrees, even in fields like technology, where an associate degree can be the minimum job criterion. That means job applicants with four-year degrees inherently have an advantage and higher bargaining power.
Employers Hope To Cut Down The Costs And Choose Job Applicants Who Require Less Training
But it is not only that employers have more confidence in candidates with four-year degrees. They also want to reduce their costs because they will likely have to train and invest in the education of their community college employees, which is something many prefer to avoid.
Various other surveys show the same recruitment bias. According to Indeed’s survey, 35 percent of managers believe top performers generally come from highly reputable/top institutions. But expecting or requiring entry-level candidates for middle-skills jobs to meet these standards is not only hardly attainable but also exacerbates the skills gap and harms America’s economy and competitiveness.
Thus, employers are mission out on stellar local talent from community colleges that deserves a chance and equal opportunities. Here are the advantages they get from recruiting community college graduates.
The Advantages Of Hiring Community College Graduates
Focusing mainly on candidates with four-year degrees leaves a labor pool of millions largely unnoticed: the one-third of U.S. undergraduates who attend public two-year colleges. A survey by Infosys Knowledge encompassed 1,000 U.S. recruiters and found that 75 percent said finding people with adequate technical and digital skills was difficult.
Yet, employers often look for talent in the wrong places instead of focusing on local candidates and investing in their collaboration with community colleges. According to EdSurge, companies more likely to hire employees with associate degrees were better positioned to meet their current and future talent needs.
The Dismissed by Degrees report from Harvard Business School corroborates that data, finding that students with associate degrees or non-degree credentials perform well. That shows that companies should redirect their recruiting efforts toward local talent and invest more in collaboration with community colleges.
Here’s how they can benefit from that.
- Most Community College Graduates Have Work Experience
Not all students are in the 18-24 age range. And although that might be the most desirable age when recruiting entry-level employees because they introduce innovation and new perspectives, slightly older job applicants may also bring novel takes on things, as well as work experience.
Since the average community college graduate is approximately 28 years old, they have already experienced how it is to be in the workforce and committed to their jobs every day. On the other hand, most community college students, regardless of age, work while studying, highlighting their time management skills, effort, and motivation.
- They Come From Diverse Backgrounds
Many community college students belong to ethically and racially diverse groups, which allows employers to expand and diversify their talent pool. These candidates come from various backgrounds, which can positively impact team productivity, innovation, and engagement.
However, hiring solely for the sake of representation shouldn’t be employers’ goal. That borders performative activism and doesn’t make a genuine difference in workforce diversity and inclusion.
Instead, it should be because these candidates can bring an array of new perspectives, contributing to workplace rejuvenation and reinvention. Thus, community college students from diverse backgrounds often have a more challenging time finding good opportunities after graduating, which is something companies should strive to mitigate.
- A Greater Opportunity To Build Lasting Relationships
Retention is among the most significant employers’ and recruiters’ goals. And community college graduates are likely to want to stay in their cities due to the strong ties.
Although not every community college student shares that sentiment, many want to build their careers and lives in their local communities. That allows companies to keep their top performers and invest in employees who will become their future managers and leaders.
- They’re Willing To Learn
According to the Partnership Imperative Report, community college graduates lack sufficient foundational and technical skills or knowledge related to their unique business needs. However, that doesn’t stem from students’ unwillingness to learn.
Instead, it comes from poor communication between employers and educators. The former must share data about the latest industry trends and requirements with community colleges and co-design programs that will result in the talent they need.
That would allow community college graduates to adopt up-to-date competencies and find jobs that match their majors after graduating. It would also make community colleges more competitive again while making skilled, local talent easily accessible to employers.