George — I agree wholeheartedly that too many employers confuse education with credentialing, and thus require college degrees for non-college jobs. This situation puts young adults in a box: Should they skip college and try to get those customer-service jobs four years sooner, or should they go through the credentialing process in order to compete more successfully for those very jobs later on?
The decision to skip college can be a rational decision, as you suggest. However, the downside of that decision can show up years later, as I’ve seen within my own little circle.
My high-school-educated brother-in-law worked for decades as an engineer in all but name. Recently he got laid off. His prospects for finding a similar job are about zero.
A 50-year-old high-school-educated friend who worked a clerical job for nearly 30 years got laid off two years short of retirement. She had maxed out in salary with her company, and now she will have to compete with young college graduates even for entry-level positions.
If we could wave a magic wand and cause employers to require exactly and only the education necessary for the jobs they offer, a young adult would feel no temptation to attend college only for the diploma. But until that great day, there’s still a lot to be said for getting the paper.