Peter Thiel’s senior year is stressful for many students. Most focus on getting good grades and academic honours so that they can enter a good university and have a better life one day. Many students do a lot of hard work to earn money to go to university. However, instead of going to university, two dozen students from across the country will be paid not to go to school.
It’s true, 24 talented technical students from across the country will each receive a $100,000 scholarship from San Francisco technology magnate Peter Thiel with a small prize, which they will not go to university next fall. Instead of going to school, these students receive the $100,000 to help them realize their dreams for the next two years.
“This is the perfect time in our lives to pursue this kind of project,” said Nick Cammarata, a talented computer programmer who was recently accepted into Carnegie Mellon University’s prestigious computer program. With David Merfield, 17, he will work on software designed to improve the standard approach to secondary education. Merfield refuses to register at Princeton University to participate in the scholarship.
Each scholarship candidate was invited to design a project to change the world. Thiel personally selected the winners on the basis of these projects. Although all ideas cover different disciplines, they all have a high-tech angle. According to Thiel, “one of the winners wants to create a mobile banking system for the developing world. Another is working to create cheaper biofuels. We want to build robots that can help at home.”
This scholarship could not have come at a more interesting, and most likely crucial, time when the debate on the value of higher education is becoming more and more heated. There are thousands of new graduates swimming in student loan debt and facing one of the most difficult labour markets in decades. Many people are wondering if college education is worth it, given the increase in tuition fees and the decrease in future prospects.
“Turning people into debt slaves when they are in university is not really the way we end up building a better society,” Thiel added. Thiel made his fortune as a co-founder of PayPal shortly after graduating from Stanford Law School. After that, he bought into Facebook and became one of the social media giant early investor. Thiel strongly believes that innovation in the United States is stagnating and that radical solutions are needed to advance civilization.
One of these efforts is the “20 under 20” fraternity. Thiel believes that the brightest young minds are able to contribute more to society by jumping university and bringing their ideas into the real world immediately. However, not everyone can be as lucky as Thiel and Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook.
Vivek Wadhwa, Director of Research at Duke University’s Centre for Entrepreneurship, disagrees with Thiel and sees his new program as sending the message that anyone can be Mark Zuckerberg. “Silicon Valley lives in its own bubble. He sees the world through his own prism. This is a distorted view,” said Mr. Wadhwa.
Wadhwa also added: “All people who make trouble are highly educated. They are rich themselves. They succeeded because of their education. We would never have heard of Peter Thiel if he hadn’t graduated from Stanford.”
Thiel replied that the “20 under 20” should not be judged on the basis of his own training or the merits of his criticism of higher education. Thiel urged critics to wait and see what these people will achieve over the next two years.
Studies in recent years have shown that people who have completed a college diploma were laid off during the “Great Recession” at a much lower rate than people without a college diploma. In addition, individuals with a college diploma were also more likely to be re-employed.
Could it be a new revolution in higher education? Or will the world reject these students and their ideas because of their lack of college education?