The Worth of College: Peter Thiel’s $100,000 Idea

Billionaire Peter Thiel wants to give you $100,000. On a few conditions.

The value of higher education is being debated with renewed vigor as Americans continue to withstand a sluggish economy and unemployment. Entrepeneur, venture capitalist and hedge fund manager Peter Thiel would like to have your attention, please. He’s offering to pay $100,000 dollars to select students with promising entrepreneurial ideas on the condition that they drop out of college.

The first investor in Facebook claims the system is broken, too expensive, and a waste of time. His opinion and his actions produced a 60 Minutes segment:

“I’m saying that people should think hard about why they’re going to college,” Thiel said. “If your life plan is to be a professor or to be a doctor or some other career where you need a specific credential you should and probably have to go to college. If your plan is to do something very different you should think really hard about it.” 

That “very different” includes the ideas of the students applying for the 20 Under 20 Fellowship, students with big ideas, like Jim Danielson who won the fellowship when he invented a cheap and efficient electric engine for an old Porsche. Students who are smart. The truly exceptional ones. The next Zuckerberg.

The video includes points of view from all sides of the argument, including Professor Vivek Wadhwa, an academic with ties to UC Berkeley, Duke University and Stanford University. Wadhwa thinks Thiel’s position is incorrect.

“Ideas are a dime a dozen. Everyone has them,” Wadhwa said. “What makes you successful is being able to take that idea and turn it into an invention, and then turn that into a company. Those skills you only gain through education.”

It seems that both men are right at the same time. The professor is right when he says that college is valuable. The billionaire is right when he says that college is too expensive. What really needs to happen? Do you feel there are some skills you should be learning in college that you aren’t getting at the moment? What kind of emphasis do you want to focus on?

What’s your opinion on Peter Thiel’s position? Sound off in the comments below.