Peter Thiel and the so called Education Bubble

I just  read Peter Thiel’s most recent rant on the state of our country — and it is all centered on education.  While I appreciate a contrarian view, and understand that Mr. Thiel is good at getting people talking and is obviously a very smart and motivated man, I’m not sure I can agree with him. I want to agree, because I do believe the state of our education in the U.S. is dismal. I agree that we need to change how we educate kids, and that we can’t go on the way we are. I agree that there is a big problem where people who can afford to educate their children better with private schools and tutors and extracurricular activities. And because these children have privileged access, they oftentimes have a better chance at going to the elite colleges in the U.S. I think we are doing too many children a disservice. We used to have the best public education in the world — and now, we pale in comparison to other countries. We rank 17th in the world for reading, and 25th for math.  I absolutely agree with Peter that the status quo is not working.

That being said I do NOT agree with his proposed solution. He says:

“A true bubble is when something is overvalued and intensely believed,” he says. “Education may be the only thing people still believe in in the United States. To question education is really dangerous. It is the absolute taboo. It’s like telling the world there’s no Santa Claus.”

He is challenging whether higher education is worth the investment. He particularly doesn’t think that the elite universities in the U.S., like Harvard, Stanford and Princeton, are worth the investment. Which is a very interesting point of view coming from a billionaire with two Stanford degrees. He can get Stanford degrees, but he doesn’t think that other people should? It is a very strange line of thinking. He can’t really speak to why he had the success that he had. Was it pure smarts and being in the right place at the right time ? Or did his Stanford education and connections help? It’s hard to imagine that the latter is not true. But I will give Thiel credit; he is trying to put his money where his mouth is. This is what Thiel wants to do (as outlined in the TechCrunch article):

Thiel’s solution to opening the minds of those who can’t easily go to Harvard? Poke a small but solid hole in this Ivy League bubble by convincing some of the most talented kids to stop out of school and try another path. The idea of the successful drop out has been well documented in technology entrepreneurship circles. But Thiel and Founders Fund managing partner Luke Nosek wanted to fund something less one-off, so they came up with the idea of the “20 Under 20″ program last September, announcing it just days later at San Francisco Disrupt. The idea was simple: Pick the best twenty kids he could find under 20 years of age and pay them $100,000 over two years to leave school and start a company instead.

The irony of course is that most of the kids he will end of taking, are all dropping out of IVY league schools.  So clearly he believes that those schools are where the most talented kids are. And if that is the case, then why are these schools bad? I also have a big problem with the idea that higher education serves no purpose, and instead these kids should just be given the “right place” and the “right time” with resources to start amazing companies. But without the education, what do they lose? What skills will he find these kids don’t have? One of the biggest reasons I think everyone should go to college , as I outlined in a previous post, is because it teaches you how to learn. It teaches you that there should be no limits to what you can learn, and what you can accomplish if you set your mind to it, create goals, and systematically go after those goals. Time and time again when I work with someone that doesn’t have a college degree I see that people without  higher education tend to limit themselves. They tend to more quickly tell you what they DON’T know or CAN’T do. Higher education teaches you that when you don’t know something, you figure out where to find the information, and how to learn it. Higher education is about students really understanding problem solving, which is the skill I think comes into play in the “real” working world.

Is Peter going to give this education to those 20 kids? Is he going to be their teacher, and show them how to learn, and how to really problem solve? Or is he just going to expect them to be in an “ideal” incubation space and create value from nothing? I just can’t support anyone who is advocating that higher education is not worthwhile. Especially coming from someone with two IVY degrees.

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4 thoughts on “Peter Thiel and the so called Education Bubble

  1. Not sure that I agree entirely with him, either. However, I am of the opinion that a college education is not absolutely necessary for success. It is extraordinarily helpful in many instances, but is also oftentimes just a place where kids go and party…I think it is up to the individual and their motivation and how they apply themselves whether at college or out in the real world.

  2. I came across your blog accidently. I like your logic and I think I know where you are coming from, but I have to agree more with Thiel. Granted there are some details I disagree with too with Thiel, but you kind of proved his point. The value of higher education is so intensely believed we no longer question it, and the value of higher education is so ingrained in many of us that it hard to step away enough to see the forest from the trees.

    I am a nerdy type that loves education and I think of the value of education as nearly priceless for myself, but not everyone gets the value for their debt burden, some have really huge debt burdens, a lot of recent graduates will now need decades to pay off their student debts, and the payoff in terms of salary is not for everyone, hence overvalued for too many recent graduates.

    Historically, for people who graduated a while back, there was a salary benefit for the average graduate, but I no longer believe that to be true for the average recent college graduate. The price of college has skyrocketed every year way out of control and a college degree is no longer a ticket to a nice job like it used to be. Times are changing for education and I at least agree with Thiel about the bubble bursting.

    This article kind of answers you in a way

  3. What an idea! – “Pick the best twenty kids he could find under 20 years of age and pay them $100,000 over two years to leave school and start a company instead.”
    Got to say, some of the most successful business people I know don’t have much more an a college education!

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