For talented young people who want to change the world, is college a waste of time and money?
He's giving two-dozen young people under 20 years of age $100,000 fellowships to pursue their dreams over the next two years – and not wait to finish a college education first.
“The Fellows are a tremendous group of young people who are going to advance the frontiers of knowledge, shake up staid industries, and change the world,” Mr. Thiel says on his foundation's website. “Tomorrow will not take care of itself. In order to solve vexing problems and increase the quality of life for people everywhere, the world’s economy needs continuous scientific and technical innovation from outstanding creative minds. I’m looking forward to helping the Fellows become the next generation of tech visionaries.”
"[W]e hope they will help young people everywhere realize that you don’t need credentials to launch a company that disrupts the status quo,” adds James O’Neill, the head of the Thiel Foundation.
Silicon Valley is full of successful entrepreneurs who never finished college, including Bill Gates and Steven Jobs. The question may be whether this advice applies more widely than to the technology sector.
Passion, vision, and talent can be put to use without a formal college degree in many fields, Thiel seems to be saying. The new fellows have plenty of all three, as well as impressive resumes and worthy goals.
Eden Full, for example, has already founded Roseicollis Technologies, which is electrifying two villages in Kenya using solar panels that track the movement of the sun, collecting 40 percent more energy than stationary panels. She began her entrepreneurial work at age 15.
Sujay Tyle won the grand prize at the 2009 International Sustainable World Energy Olympiad in Houston. He and his brother, Sheel, founded and run ReSight, Inc., a nonprofit using grass-roots methods to help vision-impaired people around the world.
Thiel argues that there's often a key moment to implement a world-changing idea, a window of time that may close if entrepreneurs wait to finish college first.
He also argues that college can impose a huge debt burden on those who must take out loans to pay for it.
But these outstanding fellows may simply be exceptions to the rule to "stay in school." Outliers throughout history have bucked the accepted way of doing things and some have made great contributions. (The failures are lost to history.)
That doesn't mean that the majority won't benefit from a more conventional path.
The Thiel fellows will have plenty of opportunities for more a formal education if they decide it's in their interests to pursue it in the future. They won't face the same challenges others may face who fail to grab all the education they can get.
Getting bachelor's degree still makes financial sense for most people, though the value varies greatly from field to field, suggests a new study : "What's It Worth? The Economic Value of a College Education," conducted at Georgetown University. People who choose a career in public service, such as "Human Services and Community Organizations" or "Social Work," are among those that will earn the least upon graduation, the study says.
But for these individuals, serving the needy, not a big paycheck, is their goal anyway.