Peter Thiel Believes the Future Belongs to College Dropouts

The Facebook investor says a "education bubble" is underway; not everyone agrees

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Peter Thiel wants to burn down Harvard. Okay, that's an exaggeration, but maybe not one Thiel would mind. Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal and angel-investor in Facebook--Wallace Langham played him in The Social Network--would like Americans to seriously rethink the value of higher education. He thinks we have an education bubble right now, the way we had a tech bubble and a housing bubble. We believe fervently in the value of education, but our faith may be misplaced. Look at all these college graduates moving back in with their parents, kneecapped by student loans.

Thiel doesn't think it has to be this way. He's starting a new investment program called 20 Under 20, where he'll find 20 promising teenagers and pay them $100,000 to start a company instead of going to college. Thiel announced the existence of 20 Under 20 in September, but he talks about it a lot in a recently published interview with TechCrunch, so it's on people's minds again.

Does it make sense to give kids a hundred grand and tell them to skip college? Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry at Business Insider is all for it. Gobry recounts his own somewhat staccato path through college, law school, and business school, and admits that it may not have been "worth the debt and the opportunity costs." Had he not gone to school, he writes, "something tells me Business Insider would have hired me regardless."

Less sanguine about Thiel's plan is Marion Maneker at The Big Picture, who notes that Thiel's efforts may be misguided. "Why doesn't Thiel make it possible for anyone who wants to go to Harvard to be able to do it?" Maneker wonders. "Wouldn't it be possible given the backing of the right kind of successful and smart people to make a superb education both more affordable and effective?"

Whatever the merits of Thiel's program, Nitasha Tiku at New York points out that he probably won't have a hard time appealing to the kids. "Who will the next generation of entrepreneurs listen to?" writes Tiku. "Their folks or the dude whose San Francisco manse comes equipped with a butler?"

Maybe Thiel could split the difference and look into setting up a degree program in entrepreneurship--something that "Dilbert" creator Scott Adams called for in The Wall Street Journal this weekend. "I understand why the top students in America study physics, chemistry, calculus and classic literature," Adams wrote. "But why do we make B students sit through these same classes? That's like trying to train your cat to do your taxes—a waste of time and money."

Instead, he says, we should be preparing kids to get out there and "master... the strange art of transforming nothing into something." But it should happen in a classroom, he says--so maybe this is something he ought to take up with Thiel.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.