Pennsylvania is now the third state on record to eliminate the four-year-degree requirement for nearly all state positions.

Employers nationwide have recognized that four-year degrees are unnecessary for some positions and a barrier for skilled and experienced workers. The diploma simply serves as a tool to block otherwise qualified applicants from work.

Dropping the diploma is a step in the right direction of expanding opportunity for all.

What’s happened

The first executive order that Democratic Governor Josh Shapiro signed in office removed a four-year degree requirement for tens of thousands of state government jobs.

According to the governor, the order applies to 92% of state jobs—roughly 65,000 positions. The remaining 8% of jobs that still require a degree will undergo review and all executive branch agencies must emphasize skills and experience during the hiring process. The governor noted:

In Pennsylvania, the people should decide what path is best for them, not have it decided by some arbitrary requirement or any arbitrary limitation.

Personal story 

Two high-level PA state officials illustrated the potential for non-degreed individuals to rise by sharing their own stories.

Beth Christian, acting deputy secretary of administration, and Darice Mayhew, director of administration for the governor’s office, explained their climb up the ladder during the signing of this executive order. The Pennsylvania Capital-Star reported:

As a teenager, Christian decided college wasn’t right for her, but she didn’t realize ‘how that stigma would follow me through my career.'”

“She started working for the state as a clerical employee, believing that taking on extra work would compensate for not having a college degree. Eventually, Christian met a mentor—after working her way through nine positions in state government—who reminded her that the ‘boots-on-the-ground experience was worth just as much as a degree, if not more.'”

“‘And when the next opportunity presented itself, I said yes to the executive position I’m so honored to hold now,’ she said.

Mayhew spent a decade in the workforce and eventually earned a degree as a personal goal. While she said that she didn’t have to get the degree to get ahead, some high-level positions do require a four-year degree. 

Mayhew noted,

By shifting the commonwealth’s focus to experience and training and moving away from the degree requirement where it makes sense to do so, it will level the playing field and provide more advancement opportunities for employees—currently and future.

What this means

States are laboratories of experiments that can be replicated and scaled. Removing the four-year degree requirement could be a game changer for states struggling to find qualified talent amidst persistent worker shortages. 

In the fall of 2021, there were 6.2% fewer government jobs (excluding education), which left a strain on the current workforce and impacted municipal services from library hours to the upkeep of public facilities. Bonuses and extraordinary recruitment efforts were not enough to lure workers back. Perhaps, dropping degree requirements, especially for positions that demonstrate no value to them, could be better recruitment and retention strategies.

Pennsylvania follows Maryland, whose recent Republican governor dropped degree requirements for state jobs, and Utah, whose Republican governor also dropped this credential for state jobs, making this a smart bipartisan solution.

Bottom Line

A four-year degree is not—and should not be—the only pathway to success. 

Eliminating college credentials as a work condition can unleash opportunities for millions of workers without degrees. This is an unnecessary hurdle keeping people from experiencing economic mobility and building wealth. 

With over 10 million open positions nationwide, what if public and private employers reassessed whether requiring a four-year degree is needed? We could move many people off the sidelines with this smart policy reform.