Griggs vs. Duke Power Co seems to come up a lot here as a scapegoat. This is the Supreme Court case that said companies can’t use anything like an IQ test to help in job interviews unless they can prove in court they’re not being racist. Since this is hard to prove, most people play it safe and avoid these tests.
So (opponents of the case figure) this is the reason we’ve gotten so bogged down in credential-ocracy. Along with whatever particular skill they’re going for, employers want generally smart people. They’re not allowed to test for that directly, but someone who can finish a college degree is probably pretty smart. So employers demand a college degree as a minimum requirement. And we end up with this farce of someone going $50,000 into debt to study Art History for four years so they can get a job in marketing.
This is the story, but I don’t think it’s true.
The Griggs decision explicitly places the same restrictions on college degrees that it does on IQ tests. Obviously nobody cares about this, and it turns out the Griggs restrictions aren’t that strict and most people manage to ask about college degree just fine. This changes the argument to be about whether there’s complicated case law around Griggs which makes employers figure that college degrees will probably be accepted in practice, but IQ tests probably won’t be.
But I don’t think that’s the main cause either. Other countries don’t have their own version of Griggs vs. Duke. I don’t know too much about their labor market, but I think many of them have the same problem. This UK website starts by saying “the fight for a well-paid job without a degree is a tough one, but there are still a handful of roles out there in which you can earn serious money without a degree-level qualification,” which seems like the same over-optimistic language you might hear on a US article saying the same. I also remember that when I went to teach English in Japan – a job which required no teaching credential and only the English-speaking ability typical of any Anglophone child – they still insisted I have a Bachelor’s in something before letting me apply.
Another point against – I think it’s Griggs v. Duke-compliant to ask people their SAT scores. See Wall Street Journal: . And TIME: Your SAT Scores Will Come Back To Haunt You. Contrary to these articles’ predictions, I don’t think asking SATs in job interviews ever really caught on, but that’s not the point. The point is it seems to be legal and a known thing which companies could do if they wanted. Given that the SAT more or less approximates an IQ test, if there were some pent-up demand for IQ-testing job candidates the SAT would be a perfectly good alternative. Given that only the handful of companies in the articles above ask for SAT scores, I don’t think employers are really that interested in IQ.
This leads to a third objection; there are some fields where standardized test scores are universally available, and they end up as credentialocratic as everywhere else. In medicine, for example, all applicants take the MCAT, a pre-med focused standardized test. But medical schools in the US still require a college degree plus a bunch of universally-recognized-as-irrelevant requirements (all pre-meds have to pass a Calculus II class, even though Calculus II never comes up in medicine). All medical students are required to take several USMLEs and report the results to the residencies they apply for, but which medical school you went to still matters a lot if you want a residency in a competitive specialty. In fact, residencies are infamous for turning down candidates from foreign schools with genius-level USMLEs in favor of US-trained candidates who barely managed a pass, for unclear reasons. Lawyers have the LSATS (and possibly bar exam scores?) and are also pretty famous for being judged on what school they went to.
All of this makes me think that, as nice as it would be to attribute everything irrational about credentialocracy to one bad Supreme Court decision, there’s probably something wrong on a deeper level.