Parents of high school kids know … it’s SAT and ACT season again. Stress is on overdrive as everyone is striving for ways to improve scores – tutoring, prep classes, working through the huge practice books at home. All eyes are focused on the thrill of receipt – opening the mail to find those glorious oversized packages with writing on the outside that says “You’re accepted” or “Welcome.” Believe me, I’ve been there with my own child so understand it well.
I just read an article in The New York Times entitled, “It Takes A B.A. To Find A Job As A File Clerk” which focuses on an Atlanta law firm that requires every employee – including the in-house courier making $10/hour – to have a bachelor’s degree. The firm’s managing partner said that this requirement shows that every employee has made “a commitment” to their future and not just a paycheck. Sounds reasonable since college is really about honing skills needed in most every line of employment – organization, planning, meeting deadlines, self-discipline, flexibility, and teamwork.
But here’s the problem with requiring all employees to have a degree – there’s a big difference between equal and fair. Equal means the same but fair means, well, fair. Respecting and supporting individual differences and recognizing that not everyone fits into the same box. It means understanding that a 5th Grade child with dyslexia reading from a 3rd Grade book and receiving an “A” on an assignment is fair even if others are reading from the 5th Grade text. That a college student who requires extra time and a quiet room to complete an exam is fair even if others are taking the same in a lecture hall with 150 other students. It’s about evaluating each person as an individual and on their own merits vs. expecting the same for all. This “life lesson” begins in school and since school is about preparing children for life, shouldn’t the same principle apply to the workplace as well?
Expecting every employee to hold a B.A. in order to secure employment means that many bright, capable, and talented young people will be overlooked. Believe me, I’m a huge proponent of college and helping all students receive their degree, yet not everyone can reach this milestone. For some it’s financial. For others it’s access. No matter the reason, it’s unfair and unreasonable to assume that the reason a young person does not hold an undergraduate degree is because they don’t aspire for success or don’t want to invest in themselves.
There are many students with learning differences, Asperger’s Syndrome, or ADD – with amazing skills and who would be top performers in the workplace – who are unable to navigate the complexities of college. Maybe they tried but it didn’t work. Maybe they were told to not even consider college as an option. Regardless of the reason, concluding that a young person without a B.A. is only focused on a paycheck is an arbitrary measure and one that places barriers where, in all likelihood, enormous barriers already exist. And this includes even when, according to a recruiter referenced in the same article, 800 resumes are received for one job.
We all know people sans a college degree who have made contributions to every area of life – business, the arts, philanthropy, many achieving far more success (recognizing that success is subjective) than those with B.A.’s. And this certainly includes many with learning or similar differences for whom their commitment to themselves is defined by the struggles they have endured and their “never give up” attitude to forge ahead. College is wonderful, no doubt, yet self-respect and self-worth trumps it every time. There’s a reason it’s called a playing field and not a playing box. Fields are larger and allow for many to play. Whether school, employment, or life, the larger the field the better.