Peter Thiel, the entrepreneur and investor who made billions foreseeing the dotcom and subprime crashes, is courting controversy again by calling higher education the next big bubble.Even worse, he started a program giving cash grants of $100,000 to 20 young people under 20 to stop out of school and start new projects.
This has landed him in a firestorm of criticism, even in Silicon Valley where people are usually respectful of iconoclastic opinions.
Here’s two things the people criticising Thiel don’t get about his argument:
- He’s not saying no one should go to college. He’s saying that for at least some gifted young kids, college might be the right track, but the society says that if you’re smart you absolutely must go to college even though it might not be the right thing for you. Your writer was a victim of this mentality. For example, Wadhwa tweets “For every Zuckerberg, there are thousands who dropped out and wrecked their careers.” Sure, but where did Thiel encourage everyone to drop out? Isn’t what he’s saying, rather, is that there are probably at least a few more potential Zuckerbergs out there than it seems? Isn’t that worth at least exploring?
- The question isn’t whether college is nice, it’s whether it’s worth a quarter million dollars in debt and opportunity costs. Of course college is nice. Of course you learn plenty of stuff there (though as much as you could?). Of course you meet plenty of great people. Of course it’s a useful market signal. The question isn’t whether college is good. The question is whether college is worth the price. College debt isn’t just expensive, it limits your choices after graduation. And college debt is the only kind of debt that you can’t walk away from in bankruptcy.
There are arguments on both sides. But it seems to us a lot people aren’t trying to ask the right questions. Maybe because they’re afraid of the answers.