Date of Award

January 2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Leadership

First Advisor

Deborah Worley


With the skyrocketing costs of higher education and the increased scrutiny of how educational institutions prepare graduates for the workplace, this dissertation explored how the “outsiders,” or employers, view and determine the value of academic credentials. Using the premise of credentialism, this grounded theory, qualitative study addressed two major questions; first, how do employees evaluate academic credentials, and second, what factors are important to employers?

Through the interviews, it was discovered that there were gray areas when determining the value of a college credential. There were three critical findings. First, college degrees are a valuable credential, yet there are issues that may deter its acceptance. Second, employers are seeking the softer skill set in new employees. Finally, the overriding attribute of a “culture fit” is critical. Five themes emerged from the research: the background of the human resource professionals who participated in the study, the positions hired for and processes of hiring, the evaluation of applicants, the evaluation of credentials, and finally, the enhancement of college experiences for employment.

The research found five clear implications. First, it suggests the importance of a liberal arts education in developing soft skills. Second, there is a need to address the academy and real-world disconnect. Third, there is a need to enhance experiential learning in a multitude of capacities. Fourth there are strong implications for instructors administrators, professors and the greater campus community. Finally and perhaps most importantly there are strong implications for students.