Got college? Hiring standards are rising

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(MoneyWatch) The economic argument for going to college just got a little stronger with a recent survey of 2,600 hiring managers saying that they're now recruiting college graduates for jobs that normally didn't demand higher education.

In fact, some 18 percent of the companies surveyed by CareerBuilder said they'd recently hiked their education requirements. Now more than half of employers require some college, such as a two-year associate's degree, and 44 percent demand a 4-year degree.

Government data indicates that the average college graduate will earn roughly $1 million more over their lifetime than someone who doesn't pursue education beyond high school. However, that research doesn't account for how much students pay to go to college -- nor for the years spent studying rather than at work. More careful analysis of the data indicates that college does provide an economic advantage to some students, but the value varies dramatically based on the price of education, the student's major, how long it takes to progress through school and whether the student borrowed to finance a degree.

The CareerBuilder study released today indicates that higher education may be a key to getting hired at any rate of pay. Thirty-two percent of hiring managers said they're now hiring college graduates for jobs that previously went to high school graduates. The trend is particularly acute in the financial services and health care professions, according to the survey.

To be sure, some of this may be the jobless recovery talking. When the unemployment rate is high, it's easy for employers to raise their standards. But CareerBuilder's survey also found that employers were better satisfied with their increasingly educated workforce, saying the college graduates were more productive and provided a higher quality of work.

"Employers are filling more entry level functions with educated labor," said Brent Rasmussen, president of CareerBuilder North America. "While some of this may be attributed to a competitive job market that lends itself to college grads taking lower skill jobs, it also speaks to companies raising performance expectations for roles within their firms to enhance overall productivity, product quality and sales."