For These Students, It Pays to Not Go to College

May 26, 2011  |  

By Charlotte Young

How much does it cost to persuade a bright, young college student to drop out and pursue their entrepreneurial dreams? About $100,000.

As the value of a college education continues to be questioned, Peter Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal, is offering a new fellowship that has sparked controversy because it raises questions about the purpose of higher education. Through his Theil Fellowship, Theil will pay 24 winners $100,000 not to attend college for two years so that they can develop business ideas instead.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that the winners, all 20 or younger, are leaving Ivy League institutions such as Harvard University, Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. They will develop entrepreneurial ideas in biotechnology, education and energy as they work with a network of over 100 Silicon Valley mentors.

The goal of the fellowship is that winners will learn more from the real world than they would from staying in college.

Thiel, who attended Stanford in the 1980s, called college a “default activity,” but admits that he probably wouldn’t have participated in a program like this fellowship when he was a student. At least one student initially selected for the fellowship chose the traditional education route instead.

Some of the Thiel fellows said that their introduction to college did help them with their current goals since they first explored their business ideas in school and received positive feedback and assistance from professors.

Still, others confirmed that they did most of the work for their ideas in their free time.

Managing Director at MIT’s Entrepreneurship Center, William Aulet, believes encouraging students to leave college “sends the wrong message.”

“To say that you’re better off dropping out of school is a gross generalization,” said Aulet. “It depends on the situation.”

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