Our colleague Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry has been chronicling the latest comments from investor and entrepreneur Peter Thiel, who has described college spending as a gigantic bubble, and who is of the belief that a lot of people who currently go to college actually shouldn’t waste the time.
There are some interesting questions there, but we’ll stay out of this one.
What’s more interesting is why Thiel & co. are making this argument.
The answer is pretty simple: Intellectual rebelliousness.
The education system offers a gigantic fat pitch for anyone who wants to carve out a niche. This is because a) the wisdom of education is taken for granted by just about everyone and b) because there really are problems with the system, and it’s not hard to find inefficiencies. Thus it’s really easy to make a ton of hay on this subject.
It’s not that different from being a contrarian investor, simultaneously identifying some area that everyone loves and is rife with problems.
This isn’t just conjecture. Look at the people who gravitate towards the anti-higher ed stance. Peter Thiel is a gay Ann Coulter fan, who is a big backer of the paleo-Catholic magazine First Things. He’s obviously got a knack for standing athwart stereotypes. Being anti-higher ed in Silicon Valley (where a lot of people have big ideas about saving the world through knowledge) fits in perfectly.
Other people on the anti-higher ed bandwagon show similar characteristics. CNBC’s John Carney attended multiple Ivy League schools, but has made a name as an intellectual rebel, and so this position is a natural fit. (It should be noted that Thiel has a JD from Stanford).
Another one is James Altucher, a fantastic writer and intellectual thinker, who says he won’t send his daughter to college. One column on the subject starts off with the line: “Somehow I went wrong as a father.” which he can’t possibly believe. Obviously he gets a lot of delight in making other parents gasp.
The debate over college as an investment has some interesting facets that are worth pondering. However, as in most discussions, people who take a certain side mainly do so to project a certain image of themselves, and to be seen in a certain light. The anti-higher education people sense an opportunity — because the conventional wisdom on this subject is so consistent — to cultivate a stance that is both easy to defend and on the surface extremely rebellious.
Want to go to college? Here’s our guide to the best universities in the country >