Does IT Support Require A College Degree?

During a conversation with Directive CEO Chris Chase in December (podcast 12), we debated whether today's IT professionals really need college degrees -- especially when some of the world's best programmers, support pros and IT entrepreneurs lack college degrees.

Fast forward to the present, and the topic is back on my radar thanks to some recent research results. Specifically, 39 percent of IT support professionals hold at least a Bachelor of Arts degree -- and 60 percent of job openings for IT support require at least a BA, according to Burning Glass.

That "gap" between the 39 percent and 60 percent suggests that IT employers are "raising" their hiring standards. Now here's the irony: If you're in hiring mode and require at least a BA for entry-level IT support positions (such as computer user support or computer network support) you could be overlooking really strong candidates who cut their teeth in IT while in high school or shortly after high school.

A potentially smarter approach on IT hiring: Greater alignment between K-12 schools, job training programs and employers, notes Burning Glass. (That's where educational and training organizations like CompTIA often enter the picture.)

More Data

But what does the data say about entry-level hiring, college degrees and employee performance? Sunstone Analytics examined that question and found some surprising anecdotes across multiple verticals, according to The Wall Street Journal:

  • Customer-support reps at a financial services company were less likely to receive strong performance reviews if they held a bachelor's degree. Prior experience with a big bank had no impact on performance reviews.
  • Among billing-support employees at a consumer tech company, top performers often had BA degrees, but were likely to quit faster than employees with only a high school diploma.

Sunstone is quick to urge against generalizing from the findings. (Basically stating: Your hiring results may vary.) All that said, here's my gut instinct: I'll still push my kids to get college degrees. But as an employer, I certainly wouldn't "require" a college degree for many of today's IT positions.

I'll take a positive attitude, a commitment to learning and dependability over an unknown candidate with a college degree on most days.

Subscribe: Want to receive our blog headlines in your inbox each business day? Then subscribe to our enewsletter. Thanks to those who already have.