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How important do you think a college degree is?

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Question: "I have a college degree, and $20,000 in student loan debt to show for it. I’ve now been in the workforce seven years and I’ve noticed that the degree (I'm still paying for it) gives me a level of respect that others—even those who have years more work and life experience—don’t get. Do you think there’s a bias against those who don’t hold degrees? This is the second place I’ve worked where I see someone working longer hours, producing more work than others who hold degrees, yet in meetings she gets no recognition while the “professional” workers (who pile the work on her) get recognized.  Should I suggest she take the time to earn her degree after hours or online? Knowing she’s already stressed out—and that she doesn’t actually need one to do her job well? I think she hesitates to put her foot down because she fears job hunting (many good jobs screen out people without degrees). Or is there something else going on?" —Why the disrespect?

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

g May 11, 2012 at 3:34 pm

Is there a free way to look up and see if someone finished their schooling? I was just wondering because we have someone that got hired in our dept. because of experience but their degree doesn’t relate to our field at all. And they also put the year they started school but not the year the finished so it makes me wonder. They don’t have good follow-up in their daily tasks (so it makes me wonder about their education).
I think both degree and experience are good. I only have experience. However it’s so hard to get a job no matter what now days.


Stop Griping! May 11, 2012 at 9:10 am

I recently found this in a business-related article and agree wholeheartedly… “Never mistake credentials for accomplishments.”


john May 10, 2012 at 8:41 pm

People with degrees a lot of the time are idiots. They have to justify the waist of time and money they wasted so they find a weak minded individual to pick on. I can tell you that a college degree is just a for profit scam that’s why the united states ranks so poorly in education around the world. My advice don’t go to college unless its paid for by grants or scholarships don’t waist your time. The entire education system is a joke keeping you down paying debt and does not teach you about anything useful. The snotty college types are sour because they will never get ahead in life and will always be stuck trying to out do each other by accmulating more debt. Sad college kid after you graduate why do you think they have college drop outs come speak at your ceromony wake up people !!!


Cathy W December 27, 2011 at 12:10 pm

@Jen –
There is also the Thomas Edison college – they give you an opportunity to create portfolios based on your life experience and you can apply it to a degree. Best thing about this is that you can gain a complete degree online. They are fully accredited and you can get financial aid if needed. I don’t know where you are located, but they are in NJ if you wanted to attend their campus.
As a side note, I have a bachelors degree in web design – It took me around 17 years to get my degree working on my own etc…all that time I worked toward my degree and then spent almost 10 years working in the field only to finally admit that I hated spending all day on a computer and that i love working with people, so I made a career change and took a deep hit in pay but I’m HAPPY! I now am working in a hospice as an administrative manager and going back to school to get a masters in Leadership and non-profit management. I have NEVER regretted getting my degree and I encourage everyone to do what they can to get as much education under their belts. It may not be exactly what you expect but the benefits come in many ways. Good luck!


Jen M. December 20, 2011 at 11:56 am

Wow. Thanks.

After mortgage and bills, there really is NO money left, but I can look into this. There may be a way.

What I am hoping is to find an employer in a more appropriate (to my background and preferences) who will help me pay for school. The company I’m at now is in no way related to where I want to go, so they won’t help me.

I appreciate the response, and I will do some research.


You can get credit for experiential learning" December 20, 2011 at 11:26 am

Jen M., your impressive life experiences plus previous prior college credits probably mean that it would not be THAT expensive or time consuming to get your bachelor’s degree. That’s what the continuing education units of your local university specialize in, often in partnership with your community college system (and they can possibly give you some exams to prove your knowledge, much like the GED).

I would contact their offices in MD to see how far your past college credits (they don’t expire) and life experiences can yield. Seems as if you easily could major in business or communications or journalism.

Here’s a link one community college offers that spells out the different paths to getting your degree. Your experiential (aka “real life”) learning may already have a recommended conversion to college credit by ACE (American Council on Education) or PONSI (Program on Non-collegiate Sponsored Instruction). These2 organizations publish nationally accepted guidebooks that recommend transfer credit conversion for (civilian and military) work experiences. Often, courses offered by employers, or specialized work experiences will convert to college credit based on the recommendation of their guidebooks. If I were you, I’d start by figuring out how many remaining credits you actually need… Steven Speilberg did it, Dave founder of Wendy’s did it… you can too! See:
Good luck! Let us know if you have success, ok?


Jen M. December 20, 2011 at 9:14 am

I have mixed feelings about this. I’ll admit, they are mostly negative, because I am one of the ones “on the outside.” Like many people, I started college right out of high school. I knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up–or thought I did. I went to school in the midwest and then back here at home in Maryland, and I think I made it through most of my sophomore year or the beginnings of my junior year (it was piecemeal, so I’m not exactly sure where I was in my degree process,) but then I had to stop going to school, because I ran out of money. I did not then and do not now have any desire to take out student loans.

I was supporting myself just fine in retail early on and then later as an admin. I also started doing freelance writing and editing and even journalistic work on the side. That brought in some extra money and built up my portfolio.

I now have about fifteen years’ worth of administrative experience, probably eight years of retail experience, between five and seven years of journalistic experience–with a portfolio to back it up–I am a smal business owner, and I’m also an event photographer (again, with a portfolio.) I even have two book projects in which I took an editorial role and have references for those. I currently am on staff at a lifestyle blog. Along with my colleagues, I do everything from interviewing and writing articles to taking pictures to editing and formatting the entries.

All of this means squat, because I have not been able to afford to go back and get that piece of paper. Never mind that I have done the same work that I probably would have done in school to GET that piece of paper.

…And all of THIS for what? Admin positions! It’s nuts, I think, that employers are asking for a degree for reception, admin, and support positions. They are entry-level jobs.

Is having a degree a good thing? Yes. I believe it is; however, I don’t feel it’s necessary for every single job out there. It’s really frustrating for me, becuase as a homeowner, I now can’t AFFORD to go back to school, AND I’m stuck at a job I absolutely hate. I have been looking for a new job for four years now! :(


Edie December 18, 2011 at 1:10 am

I saw an ad for a Receptionist, and one of the requirements was a Bachelors degree. What? a receptionist. Do you think she will utilize her degree answering phones? Will she get a decent salary? Probably not. I have mounds of student loans. No job and cannot afford to pay them. The salaries I’m seeing for an Admin or Executive Assistant is anywhere from
$12 -$15. I will not afford to pay back loans making this low salary.


Selma December 15, 2011 at 4:50 pm

Anita, may I ask how you go about getting the the training to “respectfully” tell others that their treatment is not acceptable. I have a very hard time with this and would like to learn how. Thank you.


Selma December 15, 2011 at 4:45 pm

And another thing I don’t understand. There are colleges now that offer Bachelor Degrees that count life/work experience in lieu of class work. I seriously don’t understand this. A degree does not guarantee an intelligent, hard-working employee. I have no talent for management and a degree is not going to make any difference there. I have seen managers who have no management capabilities, but because they have degrees are the only ones considered. You aren’t allowed prejudice when it comes to race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or handicaps of any kind … why is this allowed? Some of the smartest, hardest working, diplomatic, energetic and more than capable people I know in the workforce do not have degrees … some in management and some not. I believe it depends on how evolved the people doing the hiring are. Has no one ever heard that some of the most successful and influential people on earth don’t have college degrees? I could go on and on about this, but I think I might be “preaching to the choir”.


Admin, Too December 15, 2011 at 4:44 pm

I work as an Admin in the HR department, but also have many years experience as an Executive Admin. Another department Director is looking for an Executive Admin, but won’t even consider me because I don’t have a college degree. My past excellent work record and experience make no difference. I’ve thought about getting my degree, but I just don’t see how it’s economically feasible. I mean, the job doesn’t pay enough to make paying for the education worthwhille! What a catch-22.


Lauren December 15, 2011 at 4:34 pm

I experience quite the opposite. I myself never went to college, but have work experience that often fairly new college grads don’t have. Being in the workforce teaches you a lot too. I moved up and passed people with degress because of my skills/experience/knowledge. Maybe I’m just the exception?


Bethany December 15, 2011 at 4:24 pm

What I want to know is if those who did pursue a degree later in their careers and accumulated a huge student debt to do so think it has paid off financially for them?


Selma December 15, 2011 at 4:12 pm

I call bulls**t! That is grossly unfair and it drives me crazy! How can they not promote you to management because you don’t have a degree but ask you to train those who the feel have the correct education. That just irks me beyond measure!


Apprentice December 14, 2011 at 1:19 pm

This reminds me of one of the early seasons of The Apprentice where, even though the “Street Smart” (but no-degree) team kept beating out the “Book smart” (college degreed) team, in the end, Donald Trump hired the woman who had a degree rather than the runner-up contestant who did not… never mind that she had a lot more experience.


Barbie December 12, 2011 at 9:17 am

I feel that the bias is towards anyone in the assistant field, whether you have a degree or not. As much as I love helping people, I don’t love the slight that I often feel because I am “just” an assistant. In my company, there really is no way to move up unless you have a degree, so I finally enrolled in WGU, an online university. We may not like or even agree that a degree is necessary in this world, but the fact is, a high school diploma and job experience isn’t enough anymore.


Edie December 11, 2011 at 9:57 pm

There are pros and cons to this madness. I have been an Executive Assistant for state government for 10 years. I got my Bachelor and recently my Masters in HR Management. The company paid for my Bachelors. Did this additional higher education get me a promotion, respect? No. I was still consider a corporate wife that set up calendar meetings, travel, phone, expense reports, etc. I’m no longer there and have been looking for a job for 2 1/2 years in this god awful economy. Have a degree gets my resume read and some calls for an Administrative/Executive Assistant jobs. Didn’t need a degree 20 years ago but by golly, you need one now.


Gina December 9, 2011 at 2:49 pm

I currently work as an Executive Administrative Assistant. And have done this type of work for about 10 years with no degree. I’ve seen both sides, the side where I get respect because I’m doing my job and I’m good at it. I’ve also gotten ignored and probably had my ideas thrown out because I don’t have a degree. Where I currently work they prefer degreed employees in majority of any type of office job, but it doesn’t always happen. My boss is one that prefers degreed employees but he is willing to work with you if you come in with experience. He has allowed me to go to many trainings to help me learn more.
However I don’t agree that you should get the job if they were looking for a degreed person and you don’t have one, what does that say about policy? (that has happened here). And I don’t agree with someone getting a job because they have a degree but the degree has nothing to do with what they are doing (granted they had experience – but what that says too?).
I also think if you are in a lower type position like an Admin. your not going to get full respect from every one (degree or no degree) only because unfortunately a lot of people still look at Admins. as low man on the pole.
Over all I think you need to do your job, be as good as you can be at it and eventually you will earn respect degree or no degree.


Shannon December 9, 2011 at 12:56 pm

Maybe it is because I work at a higher education institution, but from my perspective a college degree makes ALL the difference. It is amazing how many doors open up for people with degrees that they never would have even known existed prior. I have seen it too many times to discount the connection between a higher degree and more respect and opportunity.


Trisha December 9, 2011 at 8:38 am

I agree with you wholeheartedly, Jen! Couldn’t have said it better myself.


Chris December 9, 2011 at 8:25 am

I think a degree makes a difference. I never completed my degree yet I a great at my job and I am told this by management all the time. I cannot move in to management positions because I do not have my degree. When they hire someone for those position they want me to train them. Go figure…


Gloria December 9, 2011 at 8:04 am

I think its a mixed bag depending on the company you work at. I have my MBA and work as an Executive Assistant. However, I am also a Business Manager for multiple functions and an Executive Admininstrator for system and drive access and archiving, among others. I have not received any recognition or compensation increase or “formalized” promotions for holding my degree; while others who just graduate enter a special graduate intern program receive this. Then, there are many who don’t have their degree but also receive all of the above. There is a prejudice against job tiltes. I also agree with Anita above. She needs to find a way to respectfully say no and stand her ground. In the end, its not getting her anywhere. She also must remember she retains control over how she is treated. She will probably need to start fresh elsewhere but must make sure not to make those same mistakes again in her new position.


Denise December 8, 2011 at 5:16 pm

I work for a wonderful company that recognizes and values a combination of education and experience. I earned my degree in business while working at the here. Before the degree, there were people (not on my team) who basically ignored anything I had to say. After the degree, my opinions are considered along with everyone else’s. I was smart before I got the degree. But now, the people who think they’re “up there” because they have degrees also think the same of me. Sad to say, but true in the business world: If you want to move forward, you have to be willing to do what it takes. I was a full time employee, full time student and a full time divorced mother of two teenage boys all at once. Just the fact that I created time to go to school earned me some respect. And you know what? When the suits at the lunch table start talking all that textbook stuff (thinking this is where they’ll exclude the admin from the conversation), I love the looks they on their faces when I jump right in there with them! I’ve been with this company for nearly 10 years. I’ve gone from an admin specialist 1 to an exec assistant 4 and I still love what I do. Degree or not, make sure you enjoy!


Selma December 8, 2011 at 5:07 pm

I do not think it is the college degree or certification that creates the bias but the respect we command. I like Jen’s thinking about “not feeling less than” those that have a degree. A lot of what goes on is how we carry ourselves and teach others how to treat us. I had to acquire skills in “respectfully” telling others that their treatment is not acceptable. It is not easy if you are not the outspoken type but this skill can be learned (especially when you decide you have had enough of the disrespect.) Just because someone may treat us like we are beneath them does not mean we have to accept it or act like it but we can definitely believe and internalize the opposite!


Trisha December 8, 2011 at 4:34 pm

I don’t have a degree and I don’t feel “less than” those who do.
I’ve been in my chosen field for over 20 years and I’m really good at what I do, I have an inquiring mind, love to read and got my CAP certification (no small feat) last year and am a just as smart as my colleagues and friends who finished college. I have no desire to just go back to school to accumulate debt so that someone else can determine my worth.


Selma December 8, 2011 at 4:18 pm

I agree with Marie that there is a bias against those who do not hold degrees. I have a two-year degree, and I don’t get the same respect as those who hold four-year degrees. I recently attained a professional certification, and this has helped with the respect I get. Then I followed up with earning awards through a professional organization year after year. It’s amazing the change in attitude when the president/CEO recognizes all of those achievements in front of the entire company, year after year.

Please continue to support your friend in her endeavors, and let her know that the work she does “counts” in your eyes. If you can get her to take courses at night, join a professional organization, or even earn a professional certification, she will never lose. If the current company doesn’t respect those things, the next one just might.


Trisha December 8, 2011 at 4:17 pm

Oh wow…I am that person who people pile the work on. I was out on medical leave for five months and did a lot of thinking about my life…personal and work. I realized that today it does not matter how long you have been in the working field or who you may know…if you do not have a degree….you do get treated differently than employees with degrees. I have decided it would be in my best intertest to go back to school and get my degree. I am starting in January. Please let your co-worker know they should go back to school and get their degree. I know it’s going to be hard, but I am tried of feeling like an outsider.


Marie December 8, 2011 at 4:11 pm

You are absolutely right – those without degrees donot get the level of respect of those who do have one in many companies. There is a definitely a bias and today’s workforce does not recognize experience or knowledge. Oftentimes some employees can’t take the time, nor have the finances to continue their education because they have been in the workforce for a long time. Good jobs do screen out people without degrees, I know. I don’t have a degree and some of my coworkers definitely treat me with subtley disrecpect, not outright. And when you try to take ownership there is always someone there to remind others you don’t have a degree, maybe not by saying but by implication.


Trisha December 8, 2011 at 4:08 pm

For a long time at my place of work, certain positions were only open to applicants with a college degree; even if that degree was from over 30 years ago. The HR division finally conceded that just possibly long years of experience might just trump an ancient degree. The cachet that a recent degree brings is tough to ignore sometimes, but the newly graduated individual’s lack of experience in the workplace generally negates any cachet quickly. Now years of experience are considered equally in the hiring and interview process alongside educational accomplishments.


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