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No Master's Degree Required: The Future of College Career Services?

Introducing Career Threads, a micro-blog series that offers quick insights into trending topics in career services, jointly composed by the Consulting Team at The Career Leadership Collective, out of their experiences interacting with hundreds of career professionals and senior university leaders.

Higher education is grappling with a staffing crisis of high turnover rates and fewer applicants while seeking to attract a diverse workforce. This challenge demands new approaches to recruitment and retention. Conventional hiring practices prioritizing a narrow set of academic credentials over experience and skills contribute to this problem. Furthermore, career centers are shifting their focus and workload in ways that require staff to utilize new in-demand skills.

Traditionally, college career services staff have been required to have a master's degree due to a now-outdated 1-1 heavy advising model. However, a career advising model that scales services, connects students to employers, and integrates career development into the campus ecosystem requires talent with diverse skills not exclusive to master's programs. These skills can be learned through various educational experiences, including bachelor's degrees in business, psychology, education, communication, technology, and the humanities.

In addition to these skills, career staff need to create engaging experiences to serve many students.

new priorities will require new skills. Three skills: Content Creation, Learning Experience Design, and Data Competency. Career professionals who can use technology to create engaging and personalized learning experiences will be in high demand.

Requiring or even preferring a master's degree will negatively impact the diversity of the applicant pool.

In a CUPA-HR article titled "The Equity Case For Competency-Based Hiring," Dianna Cusick, the Vice President of Human Resources and Workforce Equity at Minneapolis College, writes about an internal case study that tested their standard ranking system.

"Minneapolis College, like many employers, believed that hiring candidates with bachelor’s degrees, and better yet, master’s degrees, resulted in better, more talented employees. But there was simply no evidence to support this belief. Instead, the research led us to believe the opposite — that hiring overqualified employees is detrimental to organizations because it leads to dissatisfied workers and high turnover."

"A staffing model that bases hires predominantly on education attainment merely transfers the attainment gap from the higher education system to the workforce."

The cost of education is a barrier to master's degree attainment for many applicants, especially first-generation college students and students from low-income families. In a time when the cost of education has skyrocketed, institutions can then offer tuition reimbursement, which is an incredible enrichment and retention tool for staff.

We value the skill sets gained in graduate school. At the same time, we can open the "door" to employment in career services by welcoming candidates with bachelor's degrees into roles that match their existing skill sets and then help them grow.

We want to make a case for attracting and welcoming team members with industry experience or emerging career professionals who can bring diversity and valuable skills to the career center team: a master's degree not required.


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