Ask HR: Can a company require a college degree to advance to a management position?

Question: I graduated from high school four years ago and got a job at a large retail store. I started out in the stock room. I worked hard and learned a lot from my supervisor, who was a great mentor. I’ve been an assistant floor manager supervising up to 15 people per shift for more than a year. I want to move up in the company, but our policy requires supervisors to have a college degree. I don’t have the time or the money for college. Any suggestions on how I can move up and earn more money? Or am I stuck without a college degree? – Anonymous
Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: As much as I think things are changing, the college degree is still a requirement for most professional/management roles.
Fortunately, employers are beginning to discover that, for a growing number of jobs, relevant experience is a much better predictor of success than a specific degree. That’s why I am encouraging business leaders to change their hiring to focus primarily on skills and competencies.
Today’s tight labor market also has led some companies to rethink requirements for a college degree. Because of this, you might start seeing employers “prefer” a B.A. or B.S. instead of “requiring” it of all candidates.
In your situation, I believe you have three options:
  1. Develop relationships with senior management so that they will make an exception based on your good work;
  2. Get your degree, enabling you to move up in your organization; or
  3. Find another employer who will promote strong individuals who do not have a college degree.
The good news, if you decide to go back to school, is that traditional full-time college attendance is not the only way to earn your degree. Many reputable higher educational institutions offer online degrees or part-time degree programs.

More than half of employers in the United States offer their employees undergraduate tuition assistance of up to $5,250 a year. Check out whether tuition assistance is available where you work. And now, some employers – 4 percent of companies – include student debt repayment assistance as a benefit.
If you simply cannot afford to pursue a college degree at this time, consider taking continuing education classes or classes at a local college to supplement your work experience. This will showcase your drive to get ahead.
Finally, great leaders also tend to be voracious readers, so start reading business articles or trade publications in your industry and discuss them with your boss and other higher-ups. By doing so, you’re showing you can “talk the talk.”
It sounds like you enjoy your current job and employer. But if you can’t convince them to give you a shot without a degree, and if you can’t afford to get one, you should consider taking your talent to a new employer.
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