We the Partnership

The benefits of hiring talent without a four-year degree for federal jobs

By Jessica Reynoso | April 16, 2021

To attract, hire and retain a diversity of talent, federal agencies should consider recruiting candidates who don’t have a four-year degree for positions that don’t require one. Our recent research report on federal opportunities in California for people without a four-year degree explains how this practice could benefit hiring managers, job seekers, federal agencies around the country, and the nation as a whole.

Federal hiring managers would have access to more highly qualified job applicants. 

With half the federal workforce eligible to retire by 2028, our government faces an imminent hiring challenge. Job seekers without a four-year degree, who meet the basic qualifications for open positions, could help fill this talent gap.

Recent reports from the Office of Personnel Management and U.S. Census Bureau show that 350 out of 400 federal positions do not require a four-year degree and fewer than one-third of U.S. adults over the age of 25 have a four-year degree. By not immediately disqualifying applicants based on their level of education, hiring managers could greatly expand the talent pool for many federal jobs.

Federal careers offer low-income Americans opportunities for upward mobility.

Economic crises—like the one brought on by COVID-19–disproportionately affect individuals without a four-year degree. Representatives from community colleges and workforce development organizations, for example, note that jobs without four-year degree requirements were hit especially hard by the pandemic.

For Black workers in Los Angeles, public sector jobs are often viewed as a gateway to the middle class because they offer good pay and clear paths for career advancement, according to Janel Bailey, co-executive director of the Los Angeles Black Worker Center. By hiring more applicants who don’t have a four-year degree, the federal government would enable low-wage workers to become upwardly mobile professionals.

Federal agencies would be more representative of the communities they serve.

Hiring job seekers without a four-year degree would help our federal government better reflect the communities it serves. In speaking with community college representatives for the report, they asserted that their student bodies tend to be more diverse: over 69% of community college students in California are of diverse ethnic backgrounds. In addition, community college graduates and job seekers lacking a four-year degree might possess a unique understanding of the needs of underserved communities. Hiring more of these job seekers could thus enable our federal government to more effectively meet the needs of all the people of this country.

Hiring people who don’t have a four-year degree can benefit our government and our country. It’s crucial that hiring managers tap into this overlooked talent pool. For recommendations on how to hire and retain people who don’t have a four-year degree, read our recent report, “Opening Doors, Building Ladders: How Federal Agencies Can Hire and Retain Californians Who Do Not Have a Four-year Degree,” produced in collaboration with the James Irvine Foundation.


Jessica Reynoso