Coalition Launches ‘Tear the Paper Ceiling’ to Lift up Those Without a Degree

By Kyle O'Brien 

Non-profit organizations the Ad Council and Opportunity@Work, alongside nearly 50 national organizations and companies, have launched the “Tear the Paper Ceiling” PSA campaign—calling on businesses and decision makers to remove the barriers blocking 50% of workers in the U.S. from accessing upward mobility.

The PSAs encourage employers and workers alike to join the movement to tear the “paper ceiling”—the invisible barrier that comes at every turn for workers without a bachelor’s degree. The multiyear campaign aims to change the narrative around the value and potential of workers who are “Skilled Through Alternative Routes” (STARs), rather than through a bachelor’s degree. There are more than 70 million STARs in the U.S. who have developed valuable skills through community college, workforce training, bootcamps, certificate programs, military service or on-the-job learning.


Currently, the lack of alumni networks, biased algorithms, degree screens, false stereotypes and misperceptions contribute to the paper ceiling, which creates barriers to upward economic mobility for STARs.

The “Tear the Paper Ceiling” PSAs—developed by Ogilvy—feature the voices and stories of real STARs in various industries and career stages—to raise awareness of the skills and capabilities of workers without bachelor’s degrees.

One featured STAR is Justin Hutchinson, who planned to enroll in college but went straight to work when his father became ill. He developed his people skills working at a smoothie shop, which he ultimately leveraged to secure a role leading business development for a marketing firm.

Another STAR is LaShana Lewis, who had an aptitude for computers but no college degree. She forged her own career path—from driving buses, to becoming a systems engineer, to founding her own consulting business, where she now serves as CEO.

According to insights from Opportunity@Work, Hutchinson and Lewis are among the 4 million STARs already in high-wage roles, while 32 million more STARs have the skills for significantly higher-wage work (72% higher wages on average) based on their current roles. Since the turn of the century, STARs have lost access to 7.4 million higher-wage jobs. And over the last 40 years, the wage gap between STARs and workers with bachelor’s degrees has doubled. Adjusted for inflation, STARs now actually earn less on average than they did in 1976.

“College is a wonderful bridge to opportunity for millions, but it should never be a drawbridge excluding anyone who doesn’t cross it from thriving careers. Millions of STARs have demonstrated the skills to succeed in millions of today’s in-demand jobs and the adaptability to fill the jobs of tomorrow. Our partners in launching this campaign recognize the essential contributions STARs already make to our economy—and believe tapping into STARs’ talent will be vital for our companies and communities to prosper in the years ahead,” said Opportunity@Work CEO Byron Auguste in a statement.

At, the campaign provides resources for employers to expand their own STARs hiring—and invites STARs to share their own stories. Visitors to the site can also access a suite of tools that includes the “Tear the Paper Ceiling Hiring Playbook for Employers,” to help businesses get started with skills-based hiring practices in their organization.

Tear the Paper Ceiling is supported by nearly 50 national organizations, ranging from employers and agencies to philanthropies and workforce development organizations.

“Across America today, millions of workers are unfairly shut out from job opportunities because of misperceptions about their skills and preparedness,” said Ad Council President and CEO Lisa

Sherman in a statement. “Through the Tear the Paper Ceiling campaign, we will change the narrative to celebrate and affirm the skills that STARs can bring to the workforce.”