Should You Hire Employees Without College Degrees?

“I’m not anti-education! I’m pro-performance! We have talent out there and you don’t need a degree to be that. Sorry!”

On June 22, 2015, I, along with Princeton Review’s Senior VP-Publisher Robert Franek and Barron’s Senior Editor Jack Hough debated whether college degrees or life skills are more important to having a successful career.

Of course, if you’re pursuing a highly technical job, a doctor or lawyer, you need a degree. But many of the jobs out there that are paying very well do not necessarily need that college degree or the education that comes with it.

I’m seeing a trend right now with some of the small businesses I’m consulting with where they’re not even looking for that degree. They’re looking for employees with an ability to lead a team. They want you to be relevant in their industry and bring new ideas and fresh perspectives to their companies.

Do Skills Trump College Degrees?

The outstanding student loan debt is $1.2 Trillion! The tuition for a state school is about $18,000 per year. Do the math! If you spend four or five years in college, you’ll pay $72,000 – $90,000. Don’t forget to include additional expenses such as a meal plan, labs, and whatever else you need to graduate.

With tuition on the rise, it makes sense that the old thinking of ‘get a college degree and you’ll set yourself up with a stable job and salary, so that you can pay your mortgage’ is becoming a thing of the past. Job candidates no longer believe in the power of the four-year college degree because times have changed. Employers are looking beyond the college degree to skills that matter the most right now. Here’s what they’re looking for:

Understanding computer technology.
Working well with different types of people.
Keeping your skills current.

Small businesses want these and other skills ahead of a college degree!

If you need to boost your computer skills, you can take classes at a local community college without having to get a four year degree. Younger candidates can apply for internships and develop soft skills such as verbal and written communication on the job. You can always enroll in courses and classes to learn how to communicate with others.

According the Heartland Monitor poll, priorities for younger people starting out include, working with diverse colleagues, maintaining skills after completing school, mastering computer technology, family connections, becoming well known in your community or field, and obtaining a college degree.

College may not be the best option for everyone. If you’re artistic and have technical skills, you can easily set yourself up as a graphic or web designer. Many entrepreneurs are self-taught and do very well for themselves. Not only are they the boss but they can pick and choose the clients they want to work with. They have the option to work on meaningful projects to that not only feed their bank accounts, but fuel their souls.

Recruiting and Retaining Employees without College Degrees is the Smarter Decision

I spoke at a conference for credit unions in Florida and they had a whole session about how they need to start looking to the left and right of their employees internally who don’t have college degrees. They’re starting to see that hiring people with degrees because that’s the mandate may not have the skills necessary to perform the jobs they’re hired to do. For example, maybe ‘Sally’ who’s sitting there without a college degree, who has no chance of promotion because the job description requires a college degree, is actually the right fit. I’m starting to see a trend completely different from Robert Franek and Jack Hough. Hiring employees without college degrees or promoting employees without degrees but who understand your business may be the smarter move for your small business.


If you can relate to this trend and are looking for ways to motivate your team– lets chat about how we can help your business grow with the talent sitting right down the hall from you. Let’s. Make. It. Happen.



Coach Jenn Lee is a small biz strategist, marketing consultant and rockin’ high energy motivational speaker, and the founder of The Work Creative. Obsessed with small business owners and corporations who “get it” Jenn leverages her 25 years corporate sales and marketing experience to speak to small business owners, sales teams and companies across the nation. Her spot-on advice has made her a regular contributor on Orlando’s FOX News, and FOX Business Network, and is often featured in entrepreneurial podcasts and quoted in national magazines .  Follow along at @coachjennlee