Are college educated people smarter than those without it?
For anyone who has ever worked with an intern or trained an entry-level employee, or even a manager with no prior experience in leadership roles, it can sometimes be painfully obvious that there is a gap in between what students learn in college and what they actually need to know in order to perform their job properly. This disparity can be especially distressing considering that the number of graduates is relatively high in most developed countries, and their number continues to grow. According to The Economist, nearly half of all 25 to 34-year olds in the US are university graduates, and the figure is slightly above 40% of the same age group in OECD countries.
The very same report fr om The Economist also points out that although the return on investment for college graduates is at an all-time high, there is a clear correlation between a rise in the number of graduates and a lower ROI on their degrees. For example, Scandinavian students with degrees will boost their earnings by an average of 9% (where 40% of the population received a higher education), while that figure skyrockets to 40% in sub-Saharan Africa, wh ere having a degree is relatively rare. This average may also be boosted by the fact that the increasing number of people with degrees in a population can lead to employers expecting applicants to have one, regardless of whether one is needed to perform the job.
Although it may be difficult to argue against a college degree having value, research suggests that this notion may be in question. The data focus on a degree’s actual value rather the perceived one. For example, a study by Frank L. Schmidt et al shows that the correlation between job efficiency and level of education is actually quite weak, with intelligence level being a much better marker. Education level only shows how much a person has studied, whereas the results of an intelligence test determine how well that person can reason, how fast they learn, and the level in their ability to think logically.
College degrees are also inherently tied to social class and income level. Considering that student debt in the US is hovering around a trillion dollars, it can be logical to deduce that going to college is not cheap. Despite efforts by universities to recruit students solely on their meritorious achievements, variables that decrease the diversity of admitted applicants still creep into the system. With this in mind, it is just as easy to understand why having a degree and being intelligent are not mutually exclusive traits.
Higher education may be an important factor for employers when seeking talent to join their ranks, but is certainly not the only one. 2,000 employers were surveyed by the ManpowerGroup, and 50% of companies stated that collaboration, customer service, problem-solving and communication were the most valued skills in employees. In a separate report, employers such as Microsoft Amazon and Google have highlighted the importance of learnability and being curious.
While it is safe to say that college degrees will never become obsolete or useless to the people that attain them, the primary driving force for students is to eventually become employable and a valuable contributor to the economy and society at large. Simultaneously, it is beneficial for employers to hire people who will develop and grow with the company, which may require those same employers to seek talent with an more open mind and less stress on higher education as an indicator of intelligence or competency.