Imagine the year is 1964 and you are searching for a job. You head out, dressed in your Sunday best, with a briefcase swinging from your hand and a few resumes inside. But that isn't the only paper of triumph you hold. Embedded in the first line of your written accomplishments is your graduation from a university. You hand out five resumes and you're granted a job. After all, this was the '60s, and if you didn't have a paper pledge from an institution verifying you, you were as good as the gas you pumped. You have a stable job, family and a mortgage. No student loans, no employment concerns and a 401k for retirement.
That was life in the '60s: simpler, with one guaranteed job. Now it's 2014. You can hand out a ream of resumes and still receive disappointing results. After all, this is the new era. Although there are jobs out there, the competition for them is immense. A broad bachelor's is no longer enough to verify your expertise and employers are not willing to take a chance on an inexperienced candidate. The piece of paper called a diploma that would have guaranteed you a job years ago is not good enough today. Why? Because employers caught up on a small little secret: that paper does not guarantee skills.
The job market has changed. Today's biggest issues are that unemployment and taking 30 years to pay off student loans are normal. What was standard several decades ago no longer holds true today, so why are we still judging achievement the same way?
Hiring managers have a checklist when reviewing your candidacy: diploma and/or work history (do you have a professional background?), extracurriculars (do you have other interests and a balanced life?) and social skills (can you play nice with others?). They want a person to complete the work, represent the company with esteem, and overall, provide a value as much as if not higher than their salary.
A college diploma is still necessary in most cases because employers are risk averse. They want verification that someone else (read: ANYONE ELSE) took a risk on you beforehand, that they are not the first to jump down what might be a cliff. In the '60s, that proof was a piece of paper, no matter the field. Now it is a Github for software engineers or a portfolio for designers.
Today, the discussion has turned to the meaning of that glistening paper with your name plastered on it. Does it signify a multitude of experience and an acceleration of maturity, and a "work hard" mentality? Or is it simply a curtain shielding you from the blistering outside world, hindering maturity and perpetuating a small-minded mentality?
At the end of the day, hiring managers want certainty. Do you have skills or not? Did you go to college or not? Have you done something or not? How will the decisions you made in your past impact your future?
We are increasingly moving towards a skills-based society. If you started a company and failed, I daresay you learned a lot more from that than in all your four years at college. Time is relative, as are maturity and accomplishments. If you pack a lot into a year, say in a startup environment, that could be more informative and memorable than four mediocre years spent learning in an outdated learning environment.
The fact is, college requires an incredible amount of time and money. I didn't know a piece of paper could be so expensive.