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Gwyneth Paltrow: The Accidental Advocate for Degree Completion

Oscar-award winning actress and lifestyle guru Gwyneth Paltrow is one of the world’s most recognizable stars. But even Paltrow discovered that not finishing her college degree can be a professional obstacle.

If you keep up with celebrity news, then you might have come across a story last month reporting that Paltrow was rejected for an editorial position with Yahoo’s food page. The reason: Yahoo CEO Melissa Mayer strongly believes all Yahoo employees should have college degrees.

“So what?” you may be thinking. “She’s famous, she doesn’t need Yahoo. She can get a starring role in another blockbuster.”

We certainly shouldn’t argue with that. But Paltrow’s inability to land an editorial position at Yahoo does send a message about the value of a college education – namely, that one’s high-profile name and connections aren’t enough. And it’s a strong statement considering it’s coming from the head of one of Silicon Valley’s most powerful employers.

For years, much of the prevailing wisdom about the Valley – as well as the tech sector outside of Northern California – has been that a college education isn’t necessary. Prime examples and success stories include Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. According to that notion, it is elevated intellect, relentless drive and an innate business savvy that separated them from the rest.

We should salute the achievements of those aforementioned tech business pioneers. But we must not lose sight that those kinds of success stories are the exception. This is underscored by the fact that the U.S. will require 65% of its workforce to possess an associate’s degree or higher by 2020. And many of those jobs will be in STEM (science, tech, engineering, math) fields, which will subsequently make the nation’s labor pipeline dependent on high-skilled STEM workers.

Perhaps this could incentivize companies to implement resources to help their employees obtain college credits for workplace learning. One option is prior learning assessment (PLA).

PLA is a process where employees can gain college credit for prior learning achieved through company-offered training, professional training, on-the-job experience, military service and self-initiated experiences (such as volunteer work and MOOCs). PLA helps adults save time and money toward earning a degree, and companies can subsequently benefit from having a larger pool of degreed employees that meet the workforce needs of today and tomorrow.

Gwyneth Paltrow will probably never have to go back to college. But just like them, she is an outlier when it comes to achieving professional success. The vast majority of people do not have that luxury. Melissa Mayer understands this reality, and it’s why her decision to pass on Paltrow speaks to the value of earning a degree in today’s workforce.

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