You Have Years of Experience: Should You Go Back and Get That Degree?

Dear Evil HR Lady,
What would your advice be to someone who has an associate's degree, but has risen through the ranks to executive positions and then laid off due to the economy? He has a problem in applying for positions because the ones he is otherwise qualified for require a bachelor's degree. His plan was to complete an online bachelor's through a for-profit university that advertises heavily in this area. Would that degree be considered a plus, minus or neutral by HR?
There are many jobs that you just cannot have if you don't have a college degree. Some companies will automatically reject your resume, no matter how fabulous and relevant it is, if there isn't that bachelor's degree on there. It doesn't matter that you have 20 years of experience, what matters is that you didn't take philosophy 101 and write a completely banal paper on hermeneutics. (I only used "hermeneutics" because I want there to be some use for the numerous philosophy classes I took. I think this is the only time in my professional life that I've used that word.)

Do you see how silly this can be? Not that I'm saying a well rounded education isn't valuable. It is. I think it's a good thing to take a philosophy class and a history class and a music theory class. Learning a foreign language is good for your brain, as is math. Education, in general, is a good thing.

Valuing it above all else is the sign of someone who went through school but never learned to think for herself.

Is it possible to find a new job that doesn't require a degree? Of course. Should he apply for jobs that say, "Degree required?" Yes, because for most professional jobs writing "degree required" on a job description is similar to writing, "must know how to breath." No one really thinks about whether the degree is actually necessary or not, they just assume any worthy candidate will have one. Because he has years of experience and has successfully climbed the corporate ladder, there will be companies that will overlook the lack of degree.

I do think it's advisable to return to school. I don't think it will cause the heavens to open and I don't think he'll be able to obtain a fantastic new salary because now he has a degree! I do, however, think that it will stop him from being automatically rejected at many companies that use strict criteria for combing through applicants.

Should he attend a for profit college? That's a bit more difficult. First of all, some people are biased against them. For some reason the idea that people are making money off other people's education is somehow offensive. What I don't get is why these same people don't refuse to hire anyone who got a degree at, say, Ohio State, where the university president was paid $1,346,225 for the 2007-2008 school year. I'd say he's definitely making a profit. (For the record, I'm not begrudging anyone a high salary. If you can get a high salary, I say, take it! I'm just pointing out that not-for-profit universities aren't run by a bunch of altruists who are making great sacrifices to educate our young, while those at for profit schools are evil money grubbers.)

A University of Phoenix degree won't look as impressive as a degree from a traditional school, that is true. However, they are experienced at teaching adults who have worked for a while and are now back in school. There is something pleasant about dealing with professors and administrators who understand problems unique to the older crowd.

Of course, there are numerous options now. For profit schools, local colleges, online colleges and a mix of all of those. (I've heard fabulous things about Western Governors University, which is all online, for instance. They allow you to demonstrate things you already know, rather than requiring you to sit through a class in order to prove you can do algebra. This is a tremendous advantage for an adult with 20 years of work experience.)

Should everyone go to college? No. There are great careers that don't require a degree. But, if you want to continue a career that traditionally requires a degree, it's definitely a plus to have one.

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Photo by Ev0luti0nary, Flickr cc 2.0.