North Carolina Strikes a Blow Against Credentialism

A new executive order from Gov. Cooper will rationalize public hiring in the state.

Last week, following an executive order by Gov. Roy Cooper, North Carolina joined a growing movement to pull down unnecessary barriers to public employment.

Bearing the modest title “Recognizing the Value of Experience in State Government Hiring,” Executive Order No. 278 makes a number of concessions to economic reality. First, the order “recognizes that state employees bring value to their jobs from their experience and skills, not only from academic degrees.” Second, it acknowledges that many North Carolinians make use of technical education and apprenticeships rather than four-year colleges and are none the worse for it.

The upshot of these admissions? The director of the Office of State Human Resources must now take action “to emphasize how directly-related experience substitutes for formal education in [state] job recruitments.” Mandatory four-year degrees and the attendant credential inflation? Out. Rational hiring based on applicants’ skills and capabilities? Happily in.

Cooper’s order is merely the latest in a long line of equivalent state directives. Already this year, Pennsylvania’s Gov. Josh Shapiro acted to ensure that 92 percent of commonwealth jobs would be open to Keystoners without four-year degrees. Colorado, Utah, and Maryland made similar moves in 2022, with Alaska following suit just last month.

The state’s clerical and data-entry employees will no longer have a basic conversance with the plot of King Lear.To be sure, these policy shifts have more to do with worker shortages and “equity” than they do with the principles of higher-ed reform. Nevertheless, they deserve praise from the reform-minded. At long last, official stances are beginning to catch up with the facts on the ground: Many if not most state functions can be performed by the uncredentialed.

What can North Carolinians expect once the terms of Gov. Cooper’s order have been fulfilled? A cynic might joke that the state’s clerical and data-entry employees will no longer have a basic conversance with the plot of King Lear. Nor will the average career-services consultant be able to solve for the real value of “x.” This is not meaningless knowledge. But the joke lands because such training is entirely beside the point for nearly every member of the public workforce.

Of course, four-year-degree requirements for state workers have rarely been about learning at all. They have instead been a mere sorting mechanism, the functionality of which is predicated on the belief that a diploma reveals one’s stick-to-it-iveness and ability to follow prompts. That belief remains reasonable, despite higher education’s occasional descent into gender-studies madness. What isn’t reasonable is the notion that a bachelor’s degree is the only way to demonstrate those qualities.

As has been widely reported, at least one-quarter of North Carolina’s public job listings refused to acknowledge that obvious fact before last week. Gov. Cooper deserves credit for acting to lower that percentage.

Graham Hillard is the managing editor of the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.