I read today in the Herald that internet mogul Peter Thiel is paying students to not attend college. Instead, the Paypal founder and Facebook investor is offering $100,000 in seed money to qualified high school students so that they can pursue their entrepreneurial dreams.
Thiel’s “20 Under 20” fellowship is designed to take the brightest of today’s young minds and give them the opportunity to put their smarts to work right away so that society can benefit now, rather than have these brainiacs waste their time on a 4-year college vacation. Or at least that’s the perceived alternative.
I like what Thiel is doing. If our best and brightest can take $100K and turn it into millions, more power to them, and hopefully more benefit to the rest of us. And it’s great that these kids can enjoy the entrepreneurial experience at such a young age, albeit at reduced financial risk of their own. And this at a time when many of their peers will soon be burdened with thousands of dollars in student debt.
These “20 under 20” kids are the exception. For most kids, the best route to success after high school is to go to college, study hard and earn a bachelor’s degree. College graduates earn $1.2 million more over their lifetime than those with only a high school degree. And according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment among college grads is 4.5%, compared to 9.7% for those with no college at all.
Unfortunately, too many kids view college as 13th grade, an opportunity to party, go to football games, and take road trips in between classes. I’m all for having fun, I’m a huge football fan, and I love a good road trip. But our students need to leave home with greater ownership of their goals, academic desires, and even career pursuits. That way, the return on the college investment will be well worth it to them and to their parents.
As for Thiel’s 20 superstars, I’m curious to see where they are in 4 years. I hope they succeed and serve as examples of entrepreneurial greatness, the next Gates or Zuckerberg. The worry, perhaps of their parents or grandparents, is that they fail and will have to fall back on a second or third choice college, because Princeton or Carnegie Mellon won’t want them anymore. But life should not be lived in fear; if an 18 year old has a chance to pursue a dream, and if a tech mogul is prepared to back it with 100 Large, then go for it. These kids will have lived, and for this they will surely enjoy success, either now or someday in the future.