More and more people have noticed that there’s a large—and widening—gap between those with college degrees and those without. This affects all aspects of working life, including the experience of searching for a job. 

In the larger American workforce, it’s been observed that a college degree is essentially replacing the high school degree as the basic requirement for getting a job. This is a problem when only about a third of the U.S. population has a four-year degree. One study found that there are numerous fields where the percentage of job postings requiring a degree is much higher than the percentage of people in that job with a degree, indicating that employers are increasing their degree requirement over time. Another study found that 72 percent of the jobs created since the Great Recession in 2008 went to people with a four-year degree, and another 25 percent went to people with some college or an associate’s degree. 

According to data on federal employees released this summer, the government workforce is already more sharply skewed towards college degrees or even graduate degrees. 

This increase in educational levels runs the risk of building a federal workforce that doesn’t understand the American population it serves. Indeed, data on the federal workforce shows that the share of the federal workforce with an advance degree has been rising for the past 25 years, while the share with only a high school education has almost been cut in half. If the goal is a federal workforce that resembles, and understands, the American population, then that vast difference in educational backgrounds is a huge problem. 

Educational Level

Federal Workforce

American Population

High School or Less

25%

42%

Some College

14%

19%

Technical or Associate’s Degree

10%

9%

Bachelor’s Degree

26%

19%

Advanced Degree

25%

11%

Sources: OPM Data, Census Data

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Here’s the good news: The composition of the federal workforce is something every hiring manager plays a part in changing. So when you make hiring decisions, ask yourself if you are requiring a degree unnecessarily, or if you’re giving a fair review to applicants with the right skills and experience but who don’t have easily understood credentials. 

Hiring is a long and painstaking task. It can be a huge temptation to let a simple constraint like a degree—or a few typos in application materials that may be caused by a lack of formal education—skew your review of candidates. There’s so much else that you need to consider. Resist that temptation!

You may find star performers you would have overlooked otherwise—people who make your life as a manager easier in the long run. You’ll also be helping to strengthen the connection between the federal workforce and the people we serve, especially at a time when the American people need their government more than ever. In other words, You’ll be ensuring that the federal workforce plays its part in sustaining the American Dream.