The United Kingdom wing of the Ernst & Young accounting firm recently announced that it will no longer require college degrees starting in 2016, relying instead on a combination of academic profile and online skills testing.
“Academic qualifications will still be taken into account and indeed remain an important consideration when assessing candidates as a whole, but will no longer act as a barrier to getting a foot in the door," said Maggie Stilwell, EY’s managing partner for talent, according to a report in Times Higher Education.
“Our own internal research of over 400 graduates found that screening students based on academic performance alone was too blunt an approach to recruitment," Stilwell said. “It found no evidence to conclude that previous success in higher education correlated with future success in subsequent professional qualifications undertaken."
The move comes amid increasing pressure on both sides of the Atlantic to lower barriers to entry to colleges and the work world to allow more talented young people from less privileged backgrounds a chance to break in.
The U.K.'s Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission recently found that rich children are 35 percent "more likely to become high earners than clever, disadvantaged young people, even if they are not academically gifted," Huffington Post U.K. reported this summer. "Alan Milburn, chair of the commission, called the findings a 'social scandal.'
"It has long been recognized that there is a glass ceiling in British society that prevents children with potential progressing to the top. This research reveals there is a glass floor that inhibits social mobility as much as the glass ceiling," Milburn said, according to the Huffington Post report.
“There is a long literature in psychology showing that job performance and college grades are poorly related,” said Peter Cappelli, a professor of management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, to the Atlantic. "It is remarkable how frequently companies rely on hiring criteria for which there is no evidence of it working.”
But not everyone is convinced, and some industry leaders fear that encouraging students to jettison college ambitions may handicap student ambitions.
One option widely touted for aspiring technologists, for instance, is the "coding boot camp," where students pay a flat fee for around six to 12 weeks of instruction and then are funneled into tech jobs, shaving years off the traditional college pathway.
But much hinges on what you want to accomplish, said the CEO of a Utah-based tech firm with over 350 employees in an email exchange with the Deseret News.
"The software industry has, and will continue to have, different levels of 'coders,'" said the CEO, who asked that his name not be used. "A guy that works in Jiffy Lube is considered by some to be an 'automotive technician.'" But the engineer at Mercedes designing the next valve system for a new engine is also an 'automotive technician.' But one gets paid lots more than the other and went to school a lot longer than the other and is doing more important work than the other. It's the same thing in the software industry.
"If your goal is to be a 'coder,' then sure, you can become one without a degree," he wrote, "but you have to be naturally talented and/or hypermotivated. But to become a well-rounded software engineer, then the degree becomes pretty essential."