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PayPal Cofounder Pays Students to Quit School

Now here is a man after my own heart. More and more of us are jumping aboard the “college is sort of worthless” wagon. It gets more and more expensive every year, landing graduates knee-deep in debt—and then it fails to give them the edge it implies they will receive by attending. Still, teachers continue to push their students to go to college, when in reality there are hundreds of other things that young adults can do with their lives, and most of them are much less costly—and more meaningful—than college.

Case in point: Paypal cofounder Peter Thiel recently held a contest for college graduates to drop out and win $100,000 to run with one of their own innovative ideas instead of going to college for at least two years. More than 400 individuals applied for the fellowship, and the 45 finalists were provided with an all-expense paid trip to Silicon Valley to discuss their ideas in person. Now, the 24 winners will be able to use the money they won to really do something exciting, meaningful, or ground-breaking with their time instead of memorizing and regurgitating information, preparing for jobs that don’t yet exist, or even potentially wasting their time.

Okay, I get that some careers do require experience in a higher education setting; medicine comes to mind, for one. But think about how long our species survived without it, dealing with all of the different innovations and technologies—from the cotton gin to the television and everything in between—without needing a professor to tell them how to do it.

And think about how many of us waste so much money paying for degrees we don’t use—and how we’re left paying it back for decades of our lives. We could buy a house with that money! Or we could travel the world, or start up a nonprofit. Looking back, I wish that I’d done one or all of those things rather than take out the loans for living on campus, something my college (and most colleges) require students to do.

Thiel says that he isn’t hoping to profit from these students. Instead, he just wants to make the point that they don’t need college to do something extraordinary—and that they can learn much more outside a classroom.

However, it seems that Thiel is also proving that you need a lot of money to be able to do this, and though most young adults can get college loans, they often can’t get them for anything else. So perhaps what we should do is allow young adults to borrow a certain amount of money up front as they venture into the world and then let them decide what to do with it? Just a thought, and I know at first it could be disastrous—but perhaps it’s just what we need to help create the problem solvers we need.

Either way, I love Thiel’s project, and wish that many more opportunities like this come along for America’s youth in the future.