Monday, May 30, 2011

San Francisco Tech Investor Taking Short Position on Higher Education

Peter Thiel is a man who knows entrepreneurship. The San Francisco-based venture capitalist has already made his name many times over, founding the Thiel Capital Management fund and the Paypal digital payment service, and becoming the first significant investor in Facebook. Now, he's gaining national attention for his newest project: paying promising high-school graduates not to go to college.

Peter Thiel
Through his "20 Under 20" fellowship, Thiel is offering twenty promising youngsters $100,000 to pursue entrepreneurial ideas for the next two years, in lieu of attending college. Their ideas are primarily technology-oriented. One wants to create cheaper biofuels, while another wants to create mobile banking systems for use in developing countries. Thiel is spending $2 million on this because, in his words, "Turning people into debt slaves when they're college students is really not how we end up building a better society."

Thiel is, of course, not the first person to openly question the value of higher education. Yet given the absolutely brutal job market many new graduates are facing these days, we're thrilled to see such a prominent figure openly supporting young people who want to pursue an alternative path. As the economic recession drags on without noticeable improvements in job numbers, it's starting to look more and more like the promise of easy employment in America's "creative economy" is a thing of the past, and the only guarantee of steady work is the ability to create real value. As such, it's probably better for these kids to get a head start on learning how to do that.


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