Resorting to TikTok to voice her saga, Lohanny Santos, a trilingual college graduate with multiple degrees, recently expressed bewilderment regarding the present job market. Despite her college education, Lohanny desperately canvassed New York City streets on foot for a minimum-wage job. Employers’ responses proved her efforts futile and left her disheartened. As her video attracted the attention of millions of viewers, she received the condolences and empathy of many who echoed her sentiments about the job hunt.

A 2024 study of college graduates confirmed the prevalence of Lohanny’s plight, reporting that 52% of college graduates worked in fields below their education level one year post-graduation. According to the study, 45% of graduates remained “underemployed” ten years after finishing their degrees. However, men and women continue to pursue higher education because of an increase in degree requirements in the workforce. In 2020, 15.9 million people were enrolled in undergraduate degree programs in the U.S., and another 3.1 million participated in graduate programs. 

Like Lohanny, I personally observed the impact of a market flooded with educated workers through my recent college journey. Friends of mine studying computer science relayed to me how their college degrees would afford them the rudimentary skills necessary for a career, but they would need to take personal responsibility for further training in order to market themselves well for actual employment in their fields. Due to the present economic relapse, I also know well-educated college students who have settled for jobs which simply warrant modest skills such as product shipping, child care, and food service. 

As more educated individuals grasp for jobs and compromise with “underemployment,” the solution is not to add degree requirements to low-skill jobs. In fact, one study revealed that employers have removed many degree requirements for both middle and high-skill jobs in recent years. This demonstrates that more employers now recognize skills and work experience as adequate prerequisites for many occupations. Likewise, the COVID-19 Pandemic required additional health profession employers to follow suit, contributing to the 27% of careers for which corporations and organizations removed degree requirements in 2020.   

In response to degree inflation, how can the U.S. continue to improve job placement and reduce unemployment? Instead of obstructing potential workers with seasoned experience in both simple and technical careers from applying, more employers should evaluate the key skills which contribute to the success of their employees and consider eliminating degree requirements for some of their positions. Often, certificates and prior employment serve as comparable conditions for certain careers. 

Across the federal and state workforces, legislative bodies and executives are rolling back degree requirements for public jobs. About a dozen red and blue states have eliminated degree requirements for state jobs including Virginia, Colorado, Maryland, Florida, New Jersey, and Georgia. Many more states should implement assessments of all job positions and eliminate college degree requirements that are not germane to the jobs.

If workers without college degrees have access to suitable jobs, employers will not have to appeal to the wage expectations of college graduates for low-skill occupations. Simple solutions may contribute to the stabilization of the economy, and subsequently, adequate employment for the college graduates in their fields of study.