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Plug In, Turn On, Drop Out: Thiel’s Case Against College

November 24th, 2014

Billionaire Paypal co-founder and Facebook’s first investor, Peter Thiel, has lately been making waves by calling a 4-year college education “a bad investment”. He even created his own fellowship to offer top students $100,000 to drop out of college and become technology entrepreneurs.In an interview with Morley Safer of CBS’ 60 Minutes, Thiel rejected the claim of a traditional college education being essential for professional success:

“Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook didn’t complete Harvard. Steve Jobs dropped out of Reed College. Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard. When you do something entrepreneurial, the credentials are not what really matters. What matters is having the right idea at the right time, the right place. “

Thiel’s critics contend that mere ideas are plentiful while successful entrepreneurs like Zuckerberg are rare. They believe a college education gives students the full set of skills for turning good ideas into successful inventions. But many others are generally disappointed with college’s poor performance in promoting employment, claiming that our education system actually suppresses the most vital skills for success in today’s economy – as discussed by Sir Ken Robinson in his famous TED Talk, How Schools Kill Creativity. Google’s chief of hiring, Laszlo Block was himself quoted in the New York Times as saying “the proportion of people without any college education at Google has increased over time”.

Thiel continued his argument against college in his recent op-ed for the Washington Post, Thinking Too Highly of Higher Ed, countering President Obama’s claim that “in the coming decades, a high school diploma is not going to be enough. Folks need a college degree.”

Is Thiel sending an irresponsible message to young people, or rocking the boat of an institution that needs to be overhauled anyway?  “A Reformation is coming, and its message will be the same as it was 500 years ago: Don’t outsource your future to a big institution. You need to figure it out for yourself.” he concludes.