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Survey Shows Small Businesses No Longer Interested in Job Seekers with 4-Year Degree

Updated: Nov 10

A rude awakening is in store for higher education as an October survey conducted by PublicSquare and RedBalloon found that small businesses are increasingly dissatisfied with the pool of college graduates, and they’re rapidly losing interest in hiring new grads with a 4-year degree.

Key Findings:

  • Skills Mismatch: When asked if colleges and universities are graduating students with relevant skills that today's business community needs, a resounding 67% of small business owners responded with a resounding "strongly no."

  • Degrees Make Little Difference: A staggering 83% of respondents indicated that they are either less likely or see no difference in hiring job seekers with 4-year degrees from major colleges or universities. Only 10% expressed a preference for candidates with a degree, suggesting a shift away from the traditional value of higher education.

  • Spend Time Gaining Skills, Not Degrees: When given the choice between a candidate who completed a 4-year degree and someone who doesn't have a degree but has four years of industry experience, a significant 86% preferred the job seeker with industry experience. This highlights the growing importance of practical, on-the-job experience.

  • Critical Thinking & Problem Solving Has Disappeared: 89% of respondents say America’s college campuses no longer foster the debate and critical thinking needed to solve problems.

"The higher ed system has worked itself out of a job,” said Andrew Crapuchettes, RedBalloon CEO. “By losing focus on the mission of preparing their students for their career, they’ve become a non-factor, or even a negative factor, in helping job seekers find a job.”

A sampling of verbatim responses include:

“The Talent shortage will just get worse because high schools and colleges produce no talent.”

“We would hire someone with hands-on experience over someone that read about it in a book.”

“I only care about skills. If you ain't got the skills you ain't got a job.”

“Experience cannot be replaced with education alone.”

The biggest takeaway for these universities and colleges should be that businesses are no longer buying what they’re selling.

Small businesses are increasingly dissatisfied with the pool of college graduates and are questioning the value of a traditional 4-year degree. Most respondents see little difference between candidates with degrees and those with industry experience, with the latter now gaining preference.

The challenge for higher education is this: to adapt and align its programs more closely with the demands of the job market.

America is demanding colleges and universities reevaluate their curricula, placing a stronger focus on practical skills, industry experience, and critical thinking to better prepare students for their future careers.

Continued failure to address this shift in employer preferences could, and most likely will, have long-term consequences for the relevance and efficacy of higher education in the United States.


The October 2023 Freedom Economy survey sampled a universe of over 70,000 small businesses from October 25-30, with 905 respondents and a 3% margin of error at the 95% confidence level.

Download the full October report here.

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