New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy gives a speech.

New Jersey eliminated minimum degree requirements for many state jobs and will instead emphasize skills, competencies and work experience.

Governor Phil Murphy signed an executive order relaxing credentialing for positions that do not require a college degree to perform core job functions. The change aims to promote access, equity and opportunity while ensuring a talented workforce.

“This action will expand the pool of qualified candidates for state jobs and foster a more diverse, equitable and talented public service,” Murphy said. “A degree should not be an unnecessary barrier, especially when a candidate has the skills and experience to do the work.”

Around 5,000 state job postings will be impacted, according to officials. They estimate the move could double the number of eligible candidates for some roles. Applicants can now demonstrate potential through certifications, apprenticeships, skills assessments and years of relevant work experience in place of degrees.

Supporters argue this helps address inequities in the system, provides paths to career success beyond a four-year degree, and ensures the state hires the strongest talent based on qualifications that truly matter for jobs. Critics counter that degree requirements aim to ensure a baseline level of competence and cognitive ability important for many government positions.

There are good arguments on multiple sides of this issue with complex trade-offs to consider. However, leaders say necessary safeguards will remain in the hiring process to validate candidates’ qualifications through interviews, background checks, skills testing and probationary employment periods. The policy also does not necessarily eliminate degrees as one possible means of meeting requirements.

New Jersey aims to be an innovator in rethinking credentialing and opening up opportunity. but it’s not alone. Several states, cities and companies have undertaken similar efforts. A growing movement argues that demonstrated skills and strengths should outweigh degrees or the lack thereof in many hiring and admissions decisions.

By easing restrictions, the state hopes to tap into new talent pools, increase diversity in the public sector, provide alternative paths to career success and build a workforce focused on strengths over credentials alone. While debates will likely continue around this policy, New Jersey has advanced an important conversation with implications for access, equity, opportunity and the future of work. Other states would be wise to follow its lead and consider loosening degree requirements when possible in favor of skills that truly matter for the jobs in question. A focus on competencies over credentials in hiring can open doors, open minds and shape a system that serves the public good.

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