I was doing the job w/o a college degree, but with a nursing diploma which took 36 months to earn. While this and a willingness to take risks, learn new things, and work extremely hard took me far thanks to two wonderful long term employers, the times were changing and a degree the price of even being considered. So I worked 70 hours a week and completed my degree over many years using employer tuition assistance to pay for most of it. I cannot say it has made me better at my job, but it does demonstrate tenacity and builds confidence. The bigger challenge is that few employers look at skills as transferable. Job descriptions want 5-10 years experience in a very specific role and company type, rather than 5-10 years of similar experience, developing the same skillset. These requirements may eliminate people who would actually be better employees, more driven, more adept at meeting the challenges bringing in broader experience. It also limits the growth of the nation's workforce - stuck in doing what you have always done because you cannot get an interview for anything else.
I don't think it is fair to characterize companies using "preferred" or "should have" as "wafflers". We recently spent a lot of time revamping our job descriptions, and debated a lot on "preferred" or "equivalent experience" language. I personally feel a college degree is massively overvalued, and I'm not the first to say the US needs to re-evaluate our "higher education" systems. I hate the idea of entire generations going into debt, and spending 2-4 years of their lives, getting a degree as a (usually) unnecessary prerequisite for most careers.
We target candidates with an associate / bachelor degree or some post-high school experience for our entry-level position. My company and I both highly value customer service skills, so equivalent experience for our position can be just about any full time job that shows you have the discipline to work hard and treat customers well. There's no substitute for the on-the-job customer service training of being a bartender, waitress, or working retail.
The question of “would” be required ought to be “should” be required. Then the answer would be an easy NONE!
The fascination that people have with expensive pieces of paper blows me away. You can either do the job or you can’t. Formal education or accreditation might give a job seeker an advantage in getting through a screening process, but if I know the quality of your work, it doesn’t matter to me how you got there.