Virginia ends degree requirements for most state jobs

Five other states have ended college degree requirements at a time when thousands of state jobs sit vacant.
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin speaks to members of the press inside the Rotunda of the state Capitol building on Feb. 25, 2023, in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/John C. Clark, File)

Agencies within Virginia’s government will eliminate degree requirements for the vast majority of the jobs they are seeking to fill, joining several other states this year that have opened positions to those who have not attained a college education.

In a statement Tuesday, Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) said the change would allow those who had previously been shut out of good-paying jobs to gain access. Perhaps more critically, it will help state government fill some of the thousands of jobs that have been left vacant, as government service vies with private industry in the midst of a worker shortage.

“This landmark change in hiring practices for our state workforce will improve hiring processes, expand possibilities and career paths for job seekers and enhance our ability to deliver quality services,” Youngkin said in a statement.

The governor’s office said the change would apply to almost 90% of state jobs. 

Governors in Alaska, Maryland, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Utah have all moved to open more state jobs to those without a college degree. Most of those decisions apply to about the same share of jobs as the Virginia order.

State governments across the nation are dealing with a serious workforce shortage, both as members of the Baby Boom generation retire and as wages rise in private sector jobs. Nationally, there were about 922,000 unfilled state and local government jobs in March, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics — down from a post-pandemic peak, but still about 50% higher than the number of vacant positions before the pandemic.

A Virginia government website that lists open jobs showed 1,116 vacant full-time salaried positions on Tuesday, and another 250 hourly positions.

At the same time, there are about 8.5 million private sector jobs that are vacant — and only about 5.7 million people who are unemployed and looking for work. The nation’s 3.4% unemployment rate is the lowest since the late 1960s.

“As an employer, state government has one of, if not the most diverse occupational portfolios in Virginia. Our employees design, build, manage and sustain public services across hundreds of lines of business and giving equal consideration to all job applicants, including those who have experience solving real world problems, is a smart business practice,” said Margaret “Lyn” McDermid, Virginia’s Secretary of Administration. 

It’s not clear that simply ending college degree requirements will broaden the labor force enough to fill Virginia’s open jobs. Statistics show about 57% of state workers hold bachelor’s degrees, well higher than the 36% of private sector workers who have similar levels of employment, according to Marina Zhavoronkova, a senior fellow for workforce development at the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank. 

States need to go further to attract new workers, Zhavoronkova told Pluribus News — including raising wages and benefits packages for workers, something that private sector employers can do when the market demands it.