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Entrepreneur Peter Thiel Says College Isn’t Worth It

Northeastern University in Boston (Lorianne DiSabato/Flickr)

Northeastern University in Boston (Lorianne DiSabato/Flickr)

Some say that college spending is the next gigantic bubble. Tech entrepreneur, hedge fund manager and Silicon Valley heavy-hitter Peter Thiel wants to pop it. Why? Because Thiel believes college isn’t for everyone, especially not the best and brightest.

Thiel launched the Thiel Fellowship, which pays 20 aspiring entrepreneurs under 20 years old $100,000 each to drop out of school and follow their dreams.

It sounds nice, especially because you never know where the next Mark Zuckerberg is going to come from. But Thiel’s bold challenge that college is not worth the money and a killer of creativity has alarmed leaders in higher education, including Joseph Aoun, Northeastern University’s president.

Yes, we might not know where the next Zuckerberg will pop up from, Aoun says, but we also know that not everyone is destined to be Mark Zuckerberg. In other words, college is still relevant.

What do you think? Do you decry or defend the purpose of a college education? Is college worth it?


  • Peter Thiel, co-founder of Pay Pal, board member of Facebook; president, Clarium Capital
  • Joseph Aoun, president, Northeastern University
  • Ben Yu, Thiel fellow


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  • Heaviest Cat

    Why is the “entrpeneur” ,God on “public” radio? I’m glad , RB is examing the pros and cons of Mr. Thiel’s suggestion but it seems that so-called”free-market” captia;lism always gets a free ride on” public” radio. Wouldn’t this be a fitting venue for socialist thinkers as well? No, you don’t have to agree with them but isn’t public radio supposed to bring ALL voiuces to the table especially alternative ones that’might not otherwise be exposed”? Why are teir ideas never brought to the table for debate and discussion?

  • RM Guy

    Would someone please acknowledge that 1 in 10 new businesses survive, 1 in 100 bring wealth to their founder, and 1 in 1,000 actually provide employment for other people?

    Yes, small businesses provide the majority of new jobs; small businesses also provide the most applications for unemployment insurance, Medicaid, food stamps, and other public assistance.  Additionally, they are the lowest paying jobs and drag down the averages that determine the minimum wage.

  • Clayvscgi

    One thing that is being missed is that a college degree is a yardstick that employers use to measure worthiness for a given position.  If one does not posses a a degree from college they will not be considered for most professional jobs.  Many jobs even require a specific degree: for example most graphic design jobs require a BFA at minimum and will not accept applicants with portfolios and years of experience.

  • Barbara, the MOM

    I listened to the program and my understanding was that Peter Thiel was advocating no college for anyone.  He clearly said for “some” individuals.  It seems those who drop out and do well are very talented software programmers or very talented business people.  Certainly if you want to be a licensed service provider there needs to be some criteria.
    My son dropped out of an very small, elite college with classes where learning was discussion based and professors were available and most interested in teaching. No requirements.

    nonetheless after sophomore year he had enough and has had serial job offers as a software engineer.  He was lucky,  because he was passionate about this work and he was self taught since he was young and the field recognizes hot shots without college degrees.

    I don’t think most people find this to  be such a smooth career move.

    What do others think about my comments?

  • Heaviest Cat

    What else concerns me is that college teaches(or should teach) critical thinking skills that are indispensible to citizens of a democracy. THeil andothers like him just want us to be mere consumers of goods and services. He’s pushing economic elitism which flies in the face of democracy.

  • http://twitter.com/TheEsthete Crystal Germond

    While living in Boston among our many higher education institutions, and being currently employed by one of them, has certainly made me a critic on many levels I have to take issue with most of Mr. Thiel’s assertions. I am a first generation college graduate who have a absolutely wonderful education at the University of Massachusetts-Boston’s College of Public and Community Service. My fellow classmates and I often worked full time and juggled family and personal obligations to attend classes, we were challenged and inspired daily by both one another, our professors, and our subject matter. We didn’t take our education for granted but many of us didn’t have parents or grand parents could attend college, because of life or finances or, often, both. If you take college as a whole experience, and not just as a means to obtain an expensive piece of paper, it is hard to discount its value.  College education is still the key to economic mobility in our country, maybe for those in the Ivy League club, or otherwise wealthy or connected, this doesn’t apply and so they don’t care- but at some point along the way I bet education got them, or their parents or grandparents, to the point where they had the luxury of that decision. Class is, as always, the elephant in the room. 

    Another element- if you expect college to be your rubber stamp or for the professors to do everything for you then yeah, college isn’t for you. If you find yourself detached, uninspired, and apathetic you are in the wrong place- whether that applies to college, a job, or a relationship. If it takes leaving and starting your own company or getting an elite $100,00 fellowship to encourage you to think independently, question, and be proactive about your life than you’ve made the right decision. I found that empowerment in college and so have many others. Let’s focus on the journey, not the destination   

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2LASEKVNLAI6Q2UA7AVTTPXDRY Fore

    I listened to this yesterday in its entirety and I have to say it was not the most thoughtful program by an NPR station. On one end of the spectrum you have a senior professor from NE who was calling in from France (already), and then you have a very wealthy silicon valley venture capitalist?

    First off – the guy who is spending time in France probably needs a reality check. Most of us can’t just jet off to a foreign country for weeks or months at a time because we get several months of break in the summer. Secondly you have the VC guy who absolutely does not want the “normals” (we will call them) to get into their heads like EVERY OTHER civilized nation we should have massive subsidies to enable people to at least try higher education and find out for themselves if it works for them. A waste of money, precious tax money you say? I say if everybody does better EVERYBODY does better.

    So, I have this rich guy telling me that most people shouldn’t go to college because it’s too expensive. What is his suggestion then, only the very wealthy should go and be able to find out if it works for them? Oh no, don’t waste your time and money going into debt just become a software programmer and create a start up. I might add, being in Silicon Valley, software engineering is an occupation that is perhaps the MOST thankless maybe next to Highway Patrol unless you are in the 2%, 4%? that end up like Google.

    Basically you have one guy trying to protect his way of life which may not lead to wealth but most people in higher education I have known that are in the ‘protected class’ live a pretty nice life. If we go to a socialized model he will probably have to work more because the number of students will ultimately go up. He doesn’t want that, nor does he want more competition for his position.

    On the other side of the coin you have the dime a dozen (out here) billionaire trying to beat into our heads that we don’t even need college. This is especially troubling for him if Americans start to realize that in countries like Germany, France, China, Sweden, etc. education is massively subsidized by federal dollars his tax bill may go up. (And it darn well should.)

    Take away from this radio program. Higher education has gone up 300% since 1980. What happened in 1980? Our right wing hero Ronald Regan took over and began to drive this country straight into the dirt. 300%!!!! I digress but this radio program was wrong on so many levels.

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