With the cost of higher education rising nearly twenty-five percent in the past thirty years, students are burdened with an average debt of $25,000 upon graduation. However, the oh-so-confident Peter Thiel, PayPal co-founder, is now encouraging students to be innovators and choose not to attend college. In fact, his Thiel Foundation is giving $100,000 to about 20 students with one catch: they dropout of college.
Each year, Thiel pledges to pay twenty extraordinary students to work on their ideas and start a business. On CBS’s “60 Minutes,” Thiel’s theory on higher education is explained to be “just another debt-fueled luxury.”
Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are prime examples of people who dropped out of college and made beyond what was expected. Okay, so these three individuals had brilliant ideas but realistically are one out of millions. They are extraordinary people with money making ideas. If everyone could drop out of college and start up the next Facebook, they would. But quite frankly, we’re not all fit for becoming entrepreneurs.
“We have a society where successful people are encouraged to go to college. But it is… a mistake to think that that’s what makes people successful,” Thiel remarks on “60 Minutes.” While I agree with Thiel’s statement, I have to disagree with his foundation.
The Thiel Fellowship lists out the steps for the fellows on thielfellowship.org. It states that fellows must develop a plan, meet with mentors regularly, potentially intern or work, update the Thiel Foundation as requested, and focus most of their time on innovation. It also discourages students from attending to college so that they may focus on their ideas.
The mentoring program that Thiel requires is practically equivalent to college courses. The small number of 20 kids makes it simple to provide one-on-one coaching. Because most college dropouts do not have mentors, Thiel is presenting an unrealistic view of what dropping out of college can turn into.
Some of the ideas the youngsters in Thiel’s program have come up with include things such as cheaper bio-fuels, more efficient solar panels and a cure to aging. On Thiel’s site he says, “Some ideas just can’t wait.” While the ideas of these participants in Thiel’s program may be compelling, think about how sustainable they can be in the long run. True, some will be successful, but I highly doubt all twenty will become millionaires from their ideas.
Consider why only a few college dropout names are well-known out of the thousands of young adults who drop out each year. College dropouts that lead to successful people are a rarity. This perception Thiel is giving the general public that college is not essential to be great is flawed. He has oversimplified the issue.
Major companies will be less likely to consider or will completely reject non-college educated applicants. They lack what is called a marketable degree. Plus, the college experience is full of networking, friendship and skills that cannot be learned anywhere else. In the event of a recession, a college graduate will be more likely to keep their job.
Thiel’s belief that not all people are wired to become an entrepreneur and not all people are wired for college is a true. However, I must emphasize that not all people who dropout or chose to skip college will be successful. In fact, with college tuition rising and the clock ticking, it may be extremely difficult for someone to go back to college in the event their college-free lives prove to be unproductive. This goes for the students in Thiel’s program. In the event their ideas fail and they need to attend school, these young adults will fall behind of those in the same age group and may even need to start from scratch.
Ideas of educational reform are up in the air. There are discussions about what America will look like many years from now, and not all believe a college education requirement will dictate the kids of the future. In fact, some are calling the educational system broken and, like Thiel, are urging people to become more open minded and accept the fate of our changing world. But can we really say that a world with fewer educated people will be a significant one?
While the cost of a college education is not trivial, it will have its benefits in the end. We are in college for a reason, so remind yourself of your goals and continue to complete your degree.