Is College Necessary?

Last week, when discussing Emotional Labor, a question was brought up about choosing someone to do a job, when 'like 5 people have the exact same qualifications'. Because of this, I started thinking about what exactly is a 'qualification'. What standards are applied? Are they really the most useful ones to measure a person's capability? What might be a better way to determine if someone is good for a job?

Also, how do you show people you're capable of a job, before they know who you are, and in spite of biases they may have about you based on what you look like or your reported personal history?

When people seem to have the same qualifications, how do you choose which is the right person? What becomes the determining factor?

Is a college degree the best indicator of someone's ability to perform a job?
If you're an employer, there are lots of signals about a young person's suitability for the job you're offering. If you're looking for someone who can write, do they have a blog, or are they a prolific Wikipedia editor? For programmers, what are their TopCoder or GitHub scores? For salespeople, what have they sold before? If you want general hustle, do they have a track record of entrepreneurship, or at least holding a series of jobs?
You've noticed by now that 'a college degree' is not in this list of signals. That's because I think it's a pretty lousy one, and getting worse all the time. In fact, I think one of the most productive things an employer could do, both for themselves and for society at large, is to stop placing so much emphasis on standard undergraduate and graduate degrees.

"The college degree is becoming the new high school diploma: the new minimum requirement, albeit an expensive one, for getting even the lowest-level job." Dental lab techs, chemical equipment tenders, and medical equipment preparers are all jobs that require a degree at least 50% more often than they used to as recently as 2007.
There are two huge problems with this approach. One is that college is really expensive, and getting more so all the time. … Total student loan debt is now larger than credit card debt in the US, and it can't be discharged even in bankruptcy.
The even bigger problem is that, … college degrees are getting less valuable over time even as they're getting more expensive.

Damning Statistics?
-45 percent of students "did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning" during the first two years of college.
-36 percent of students "did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning" over four years of college.
-Those students who do show improvements tend to show only modest improvements. -Students improved on average only 0.18 standard deviations over the first two years of college and 0.47 over four years. What this means is that a student who entered college in the 50th percentile of students in his or her cohort would move up to the 68th percentile four years later -- but that's the 68th percentile of a new group of freshmen who haven't experienced any college learning.
-Students who study by themselves for more hours each week gain more knowledge -- while those who spend more time studying in peer groups see diminishing gains.
-Students whose classes reflect high expectations (more than 40 pages of reading a week and more than 20 pages of writing a semester) gained more than other students.
-Students who spend more time in fraternities and sororities show smaller gains than other students.
-Students who engage in off-campus or extracurricular activities (including clubs and volunteer opportunities) have no notable gains or losses in learning.
-Students majoring in liberal arts fields see "significantly higher gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing skills over time than students in other fields of study." Students majoring in business, education, social work and communications showed the smallest gains.

Wait, what do they mean by learning?
"Learning" in this case is determined by performance on a test called the Collegiate Learning Assessment, which gauges "critical thinking, analytic reasoning, and other 'higher level' skills". This may not be what students go to college to learn. It is possible that collegiate learning mainly involves an increase in knowledge in specific study areas. That is, a history student might not improve his critical thinking faculties while at university, but he might learn an awful lot about history. On the other hand, employers probably value general critical thinking skills far more than they do course content.

So what are some other ways to evaluate a job candidate? How about video game evaluations?
The rules of Happy Hour are deceptively simple. You are a bartender. Your challenge is to tell what sort of drink each of a swelling mob of customers wants by the expressions on their faces. Then you must make and serve each drink and wash each used glass, all within a short period of time. Play this video game well and you might win a tantalising prize: a job in the real world.
Happy Hour, which will be unveiled to the public on May 28th, is one of several video games developed by Knack, a start-up founded by Guy Halfteck, an Israeli entrepreneur. The games include a version of Happy Hour in which sushi replaces booze, Words of Wisdom (a word game) and Balloon Brigade (which involves putting out fires with balloons and water). They are designed to test cognitive skills that employers might want, drawing on some of the latest scientific research. These range from pattern recognition to emotional intelligence, risk appetite and adaptability to changing situations.
A pilot now under way with students at Yale combines the results of games with academic grades. As little as ten minutes of play can yield enough data to predict performance, says Mr Halfteck.
…games have huge advantages over traditional recruitment tools, such as personality tests, which can easily be outwitted by an astute candidate. Many more things can be tested quickly and performance can't be faked on Knack's games, he says. The two biggest challenges, according to Mr Chabris, are ensuring the games are fun to play and convincing recruiters, who typically make no attempt to measure cognitive skills, to pay attention to these new data.

When hiring people, are interviews a good idea either?
However, when Prof. McCarthy looked at previous studies to see whether factors such as race, sex and age affected hiring, the results were “mixed, all across the board.” Those findings prompted the question: Why did some interviewers tend to hire “similar” people and some didn't?
“We found it depends on interview structure,” she said. “When a highly structured interview is used, those similarity effects wash out.”
They concluded that if interviewers adhere to a set of questions based on the knowledge, skills and abilities required for the job – as opposed to engaging in a more casual, “get-to-know-you” session – it will reduce the biases that could slip through.
“When we structure an interview, we're forcing the interviewer to focus ... on relevant information, not the colour of the person's hair or whether they are male or female or how they are speaking,” said Prof. McCarthy.”
She says that though many companies now use this type of structured interview, some still do unstructured interviews, relying on “gut feeling.” It's a practice that is “really problematic,” in her view.
“For example, ‘Can you explain to me a time in one of your previous jobs when you had to deal with a very complex situation in a similar department, and how did you handle that?’” she says. “You give the candidate the opportunity to use their own past experience to describe how they might handle a situation in your company. It removes personality from the interview, or selection based on attributes that you like or admire, and it gives the candidate the opportunity to express themselves.”

In news you already knew: Employers tend to hire people they'd like to hang out with.

So, how much does a degree pay? A Chart: Some Salaries after Graduation
With tuition and student debt skyrocketing and dim job prospects awaiting many graduates, states are trying to show residents what kind of return they can realistically expect for investing in a degree from a public college or university. That’s why Virginia, Tennessee, and Arkansas are collecting salary data on their graduates and posting it online … . The database, which doesn’t reveal any names or other identifying information, shows students how much money they can expect to earn based on the major and school they choose.