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Walz eliminates four-year degree requirements for many state jobs

UMN community reacts to Gov. Tim Walz’s recent elimination of the need for college degrees in more than 75% of state jobs.
Image by Governor Walz’s Press Office (courtesy)
Gov. Tim Walz signs the executive order eliminating four-year college degree requirements for state jobs into effect on Oct. 30.

Gov. Tim Walz signed an executive order eliminating the requirement for four-year degrees in more than 75% of government jobs, which took effect Tuesday.

Minnesota is the 12th state to eliminate college degree requirements in state government positions. Like other states including Maryland, Colorado and Michigan, the purpose of this order is to validate other skills and experiences outside of a four-year degree.

“In Minnesota, we’re making sure that you can succeed with on-the-job experience, military training, or an apprenticeship under your belt,” Walz said in a post on X on Tuesday.

In addition to the initial elimination of college degrees, the order also aims to help current employees develop long-term career plans through training and providing guidance and planning, according to a press release sent to the Minnesota Daily.

Erin Campbell, Minnesota management and budget commissioner, said the state government’s main goal with this executive order is to remove barriers to opportunities and increase retention in state jobs. She added the executive order could increase the diversity of job applicants and improve the current retention of Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) employees.

“We’re always looking to make sure that the state workforce reflects the people that we serve,” Campbell said.

According to Campbell, the hope is that the executive order will create more than one pathway to state jobs for people with and without four-year degrees. She said the state government doesn’t want the expectation of a college degree to deter people with the qualifications and experience.

“Maybe you do have a degree and some specific experience that we think meets, is in line with the minimum qualifications,” Campbell said. “Or perhaps it is a series of work experience skills that you’ve acquired, might be certifications, things along the way that are not a degree.”

According to the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), prospective employees can complete several high-demand positions with certificates or on-the-job training.

“It’s essential that we operate under the same principles we promote and support, by helping to make it easy for Minnesota workers to find good-paying jobs and help Minnesota businesses to fill their job vacancies,” said a spokesperson from DEED in an email statement to the Daily.

David Schultz, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota and Hamline University, said the executive order left him with many questions about what caused Walz to create and sign this order. He said he questions whether certain research or data went into creating the order and if long-term implications were considered.

“How is this going to have a broader impact on pay and pay scales?” Schultz asked. “The arguments say that, well, since you don’t have a college degree, we don’t have to pay you as much. I don’t know.”

Schultz added the executive order could decrease certain racial disparities or discriminatory practices in state government but questions if eliminating the need for four-year degrees is the proper solution.

According to Schultz, it seems the executive order aims to alleviate the labor shortage in Minnesota rather than target specific issues, like racial disparities and lack of higher education.

“How essential is the degree to actually doing the job? And is there any evidence that the requirement of a degree is racially discriminatory?” Schultz said. “I would like to see some research on that.”

Schultz added the order came while many colleges were worried about declining enrollment from students who recently graduated high school.

The University system has seen decreased enrollment numbers recently. Enrollments at other four-year colleges statewide, like the state universities in Mankato and St. Cloud, have declined drastically over the past 10 years, according to Schultz.

“If we’re concerned about getting more people into college, keeping the college enrollment stable and, if we generally say that a college degree means enhanced earnings in life, doesn’t this executive order potentially hurt all of that?” Schultz said.

Schultz said he could see a potential adverse effect on majors that traditionally served as pipelines to help students go directly from college to their state career of choice, like criminal justice or political science.

Robert McMaster, vice provost and dean of undergraduate education at the University, had a more hopeful outlook on what Walz’s executive order could do for Minnesota.

“While we believe that attaining a college degree is critical to achieving that for many Minnesotans, we recognize that it’s not the path for every person and every occupation,” McMaster said.

According to McMaster, the University received nearly 40,000 applications for the 2023-2024 academic year. He said even with the passing of this executive order, that number is not expected to decline.

“We have seen incredible interest from high school students and their parents in recent years,” McMaster said. “We do not believe this decision will impact that continued interest.”

Morris Kleiner, a professor of public affairs at the University, said the proposal is a great way for Minnesota to expand its hiring practices and increase its labor pool.

Kleiner added there is a high demand for workers in Minnesota, which means that recent high school graduates have a chance of getting a job through field experience, apprenticeships or entering the workforce right after graduating.

Being able to go straight into the workforce would save recent high school graduates both money and time they would have otherwise spent getting a four-year college degree, Kleiner said.

The executive order did not eliminate licensing requirements for some state jobs, which Kleiner said would still serve as a way to ensure the people hired for those jobs know how to perform in them.

Kleiner added a four-year degree, like the ones offered by the University, helps students pick up the tools that will help them in their careers.

Even though a four-year degree is no longer a requirement for most state jobs, the tools that students learn how to use in their classes will benefit them in the long run and help them secure a good job, according to Kleiner.

“There are now alternative pathways for [people] getting work in state government, and I think that’s great for them,” Kleiner said.

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  • Gianna Bari Lassiter
    Nov 17, 2023 at 10:34 am

    Thank you Alexes for this reporting. It provides hope to young people that there are many options for gaining experience & growing.