Alaska Drops Degree Requirements for Most State Jobs

advanced degree

The state of Alaska has struggled to find and hang on to government workers.

The office of Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy acknowledged as much in a recent statement announcing that “The Last Frontier” is eliminating four-year degree requirements for many of its government roles.

“Alaska faces an unprecedented workforce shortage, which is impacting the delivery of essential state services,” the statement read. “Currently, there are not enough qualified applicants to fill all the state’s job vacancies.”

State labor data provides some perspective on Alaska’s recruitment and retention issues. In 2014, for example, the state employed more than 27,000 workers. That number had dipped just below 22,000 by the end of 2022.

The just-announced administrative order was designed to be “the first step in addressing the state’s workforce shortages and modernizing [Alaska’s] personnel system,” according to the governor’s statement.

The order requires Alaska’s director of personnel and labor relations to identify the job classifications that currently require applicants to possess a four-year college degree.

The state’s Department of Administration will then review and determine which job classifications are appropriate to include practical experience in lieu of or in addition to a four-year college degree requirement.

And, whenever practical, Alaska state government jobs will now include relevant experience in lieu of a college degree. Alaska’s Department of Administration will also propose and present amendments to the state’s personnel rules to the personnel board, recommending the replacement of any requirements for a four-year college degree for all state jobs in which a degree is not legally required with comparable, relevant work experience, skills or competency-based training requirements.

Experience Over Education

Alaska is not the first state to loosen up on education prerequisites in an effort to expand the talent pool for state government jobs.

For example, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro recently signed an executive order that abolishes four-year college degree requirements for state job listings, directing the state to put emphasis on competencies and relevant experience when considering candidates.

“The Commonwealth is committed to increasing economic opportunity for all people of Pennsylvania by creating new pathways to public employment,” the order reads. “This means that approximately 65,000 jobs can be filled by people that possess the relevant work experience and skills-based training, regardless of their educational attainment.”

The executive order—Shapiro’s first since becoming governor—is effective immediately and applies to 92% of all Commonwealth jobs. The state’s secretary of administration will review the remaining 8% of state positions with a college-degree prerequisite, to determine which job classifications are appropriate to include practical experience, in lieu of, or in addition to, a four-year college degree requirement, according to the order.

Maryland and Utah took a similar tack in 2022. In March of last year, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced that many of the state’s government roles would no longer require four-year degrees, as part of a new program aimed at expanding job opportunities throughout the state. At the time Hogan announced the new initiative, Maryland had more than 8,600 vacant positions within its executive branch.

In December, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox introduced the state’s new skills-first hiring initiative within state government, which removed four-year degree prerequisites for most Utah government positions.

“Degrees have become a blanketed barrier-to-entry in too many jobs,” Gov. Cox said in a statement, adding that 98% of Utah’s nearly 1,100 classified jobs in the state’s executive branch do not require an advanced degree. “Instead of focusing on demonstrated competence, the focus too often has been on a piece of paper. We are changing that.”

Gov. Dunleavy seems to have a similar objective with the new Alaska initiative, voicing the increasingly common belief that experience and competence should carry equal if not greater weight in hiring decisions.

“Today people can gain knowledge, skills and abilities through on-the-job experience,” he said in a statement. “If we’re going to address our labor shortage, we have to recognize the value that apprenticeships, on-the-job training, military training, trade schools and other experience provides applicants. If a person can do the job, we shouldn’t be holding anyone back just because they don’t have a degree.”

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