Teachers College, Columbia University

Employer Perceptions of Associate Degrees in Local Labor Markets: A Case Study of the Employment of Information Technology Technicians in Detroit and Seattle

By Michelle Van Noy & James Jacobs

The national push to increase college completion is based on the expectation that college credentials will help graduates secure good jobs. However, the perspective of employers on the value of credentials in the labor market is not well understood. In this study, the authors conducted in-depth interviews with managers responsible for hiring information technology technicians in order to examine employer perceptions of associate and bachelor's degree holders in Detroit and Seattle.

Across the two labor markets, employers expected some common qualities in both associate and bachelor’s degree holders, including technical skills and knowledge, thinking skills, communication skills, and discipline. However, many hiring managers also expected negative characteristics in associate degree holders, such as a lack of academic ability, initiative, or skill.

This study provides suggestions on how an understanding of the local labor market and the qualities employers expect in credential holders can help colleges fine-tune their programs to meet students' and employer's needs.

A brief version of this paper, Brief No. 56: Employer Perceptions of Associate Degrees: Information Technology Technicians in Detroit and Seattle, is available for download.