Two more states just implemented a smart reform that will unlock tens of thousands of job opportunities for non-college grads.

Recently, both the Peach State and the Sunshine State shed degree requirements from state jobs, a move that will open the door of public employment to workers who may be skilled and experienced but lack a diploma.

Last week, Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law that directed state agencies to substitute work experience for postsecondary education (i.e., removing degree requirements) for state positions. The bill enjoyed unanimous approval from both the state House and Senate.

In April, government Brian Kemp signed into law the “Reducing Barriers to State Employment Act of 2023,” a bill overwhelmingly passed by the Georgia House and Senate. This bill directs state agencies, boards, departments, commissions, and other authorities to reassess the educational and training requirements for positions and to reduce the number of jobs requiring a four-year degree. It also requires a regular audit to ensure that degree requirements do not creep back into the state workforce. 

Lt. Governor Burt Jones noted:

I was proud to work with Senator [John] Albers to get Senate Bill 3 passed and immediately address a part of Georgia’s workforce shortage concerns. SB 3 makes it easier for state offices, departments, and agencies to hire applicants without a four-year brick and mortar degree.

The impact 

Degree inflation, or the rise in jobs with four-year degree requirements, over the past decade, has disqualified over 70 million non-degreed Americans from gainful employment in middle-skilled and middle-class jobs. These workers end up stuck in lower-paying positions or reach a career ceiling that their skills and even years of experience cannot break through.

Meanwhile, employers have been battling worker shortages only made worse by the pandemic. Many states continue to grapple with filling jobs, especially in key areas of public services, as older workers retire and younger workers pursue other paths.

One in four jobs in Florida state agencies is unfilled. Some 28 of 29 state agencies had percentages of vacant positions in the double digits, according to statistics obtained by the Tampa Bay Times.

By removing degree requirements from substantial proportions of public jobs, states are opening up their talent pools to more qualified applicants, knocking down barriers to opportunity for individuals to advance, and addressing their own worker shortages with local talent.

Georgia and Florida now join a growing list of states that have scaled back degree requirements for positions. 

Previously, we reported on Maryland under the previous Republican Governor Larry Hogan, who started this trend, and Virginia’s Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin. Republican and Democratic Governors from Colorado, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and Utah have all implemented this policy. Clearly, there is bipartisan support for eliminating this barrier to opportunity.

Advanced education may be useful and critical for some positions. However, too many jobs require a diploma despite the duties of the job not warranting the added education. Increased education comes at a price for workers. 

Student loan debt has reached over $1.7 trillion and many people carry five-and six-figure student loan debt loads to pursue a degree for which they cannot find employment to repay the loan. Most disheartening is the situation for people who never finish their education, but are still on the hook for the debt load.

As my colleague, Inez Stepman, explained during a recent policy chat, there is a connection between degree inflation, student loan debt, and the rising cost of college. By subsidizing student loans, the federal government has locked us into a vicious cycle that must be broken.

Bottom line

Policymakers increasingly recognize that a qualified workforce doesn’t have to mean a degreed workforce. This is a smart solution that can have transformative impacts.