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Minnesota eliminates four-year degree requirements for most state government jobs

Briana Bierschbach
Article Date
October 30, 2023

Gov. Tim Walz signed an executive order he hopes will bring in new applicants for government jobs. 

A four-year degree will no longer be required to apply for a majority of jobs at one of Minnesota's largest employers — state government.

Gov. Tim Walz signed an executive order Monday that will open up an estimated 75% of jobs with the state to people without a bachelor's degree, a move he hopes will help tackle an immediate workforce crunch and make it easier for more people to choose a career in the public sector.

"We've always said it, now we're just showing it: We value work, we value experience and we want you to come in and be a part of this," Walz said before signing the order, which is effective immediately.

State government is Minnesota's second-largest employer with a workforce of about 38,000 people, not including those working for colleges and universities.

The executive order will get rid of the requirement for more than 25,000 jobs, such as corrections officers, human services technicians and staff in state veterans homes. Jobs that involve licensure — such as nurses, psychologists and civil engineers — will continue to require a four-year degree.

The order will not apply to state jobs at the University of Minnesota but does affect some jobs in the Minnesota State system of colleges and universities.

It comes as state government is trying to expand its workforce by thousands of employees over the next several years to help enact an expansive agenda passed by the DFL-controlled Legislature.

The state has about 1,500 job openings. Workers are needed for an office to regulate the state's legal marijuana market, set up the state's first paid family and medical leave program and run new or expanded education, housing and energy programs.

"That is part of the great thing about the timing right now — this is coming at a time when we have increased hiring," said Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Erin Campbell, who said hiring is up more than 55% since last year.

The state will develop training for thousands of hiring managers who work in government around writing minimum qualifications for jobs, as well as identifying the right mix of experience and skills to narrow down a field of candidates.

The idea of skills-based hiring has gained traction over the last several years as a way to attract a large and diverse applicant pool. It reverses decades of so-called "degree inflation," which added four-year requirements to a majority of jobs, including some that previously didn't mandate college-level training.

A 2022 report from the Burning Glass Institute says two-thirds of working-aged Americans don't hold bachelor's degrees. Roughly 46% of middle-skill and 31% of high-skill occupations experienced "degree resets" between 2017 and 2019, according to the report.

"I personally can't sit still. I'm incredibly grateful something like this is an option," said William Hunt, a student at St. Paul College who is working toward a two-year degree as a machinist. He said a four-year degree isn't an option for him.

Major corporations such as IBM, Walmart, Google and Bank of America have eliminated or reduced degree requirements and shifted to a skills-based approach.

Minnesota joins at least 16 states that no longer include a degree requirement for most state jobs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Both former president Donald Trump and President Joe Biden have enacted policies at the federal level to put more emphasis on job skills when hiring government workers in sectors such as IT.

Walz said working in his office doesn't require a bachelor's degree, and DFL U.S. Rep. Angie Craig has also eliminated the requirement to work for her.

Four-year degree requirements have been the biggest barrier for women and communities of color, said Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan. The change has the potential to dramatically increase diversity in the state's workforce.

"There is a real opportunity now to say: 'There is a place for me in state government,' " Flanagan said. "Once you recruit people, the opportunity to retain them as well is something we're really excited about, especially in communities of color."…