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Are You A Snob When You Hire?

Who would be a better match for your IT organization -- a job candidate with some tech skills and a bachelor's degree in history, or an individual who has an associate's degree in a technology-related field? Maybe the answer is neither. Perhaps you'd throw out both résumés. But exactly how important is any degree on paper versus hands-on experience?
Who would be a better match for your IT organization -- a job candidate with some tech skills and a bachelor's degree in history, or an individual who has an associate's degree in a technology-related field? Maybe the answer is neither. Perhaps you'd throw out both résumés. But exactly how important is any degree on paper versus hands-on experience?That's what Barry Houser, a computer forensics instructor at Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa, Iowa, wants to know. He's getting very frustrated. Houser's students are having a tough time landing jobs once they graduate.

Houser's students "see a lot of jobs out there," but they're being overlooked by employers because the highest education level on their resumes is an associate's degree, he says.

"I recently spoke with a representative of a company that was in need of people. But, these people had to have a bachelor's degree," wrote Houser in an e-mail to InformationWeek.

"As the job was a technical job, I inquired about the specifics of the degree. I was told that it didn't matter what the degree was in as long as it was a bachelor's or higher," he says.

"What is wrong with hiring a person who can do the job, regardless of degree?" asks Houser, who "only" has an associate's degree himself, but spent 14 years working for the "second-largest computer company in the world" before returning to his alma mater to teach others.

We've all probably heard at some point an employer claim that a particular major in college isn't what really matters. Rather, just having a college degree is an indication that a person "can think," the employer will say. But does that mean a person who has a two-year degree can't "think" as well as someone with a four-year degree?

And of course, for many employers, it's not just the degree that matters; it's also the prestige of the school.

"For whatever reason, the community college is the only avenue to post-secondary education for a lot of people across the country," says Houser.

While many employers snub community college students, the schools' two-year degree programs offer many advantages for students to hit-the-ground-running in new jobs, argues Houser. The colleges' labs are set up so the students can "do" what they are learning in the classroom, he says. "This hands-on approach translates to "on the job experience," which most companies want," he writes.

Houser has an idea that might provide "a resolution that's good for everyone involved," he says.

"How about hiring someone with an associate's degree at a slightly reduced wage and allowing them to work toward higher degrees," he suggests. "The company gets an employee who can do the job and at a cheaper price. The employee gets a wage, benefits, and a higher education. Once the degree is earned, they get a bump in salary.."

Finally, for Houser's students, the associate's degree "prejudice" isn't the only problem in landing jobs.

"It's bad enough that our students 'only' acquire an associate's degree, but they earn it in Ottumwa, Iowa, a place not well-known if you go too far from here," he says.

(Well, not exactly. If you're a fan of the old TV show M*A*S*H, you might recognize one the city's most famous "natives." The 4077th's Corporal Radar O'Reilly was a farm-boy from Ottumwa. But we digress.) What kind of advice do you have for Houser's students and other associate's degree-holders out there trying to launch tech degrees? And would you be willing to hire one of them? Why not?