Facebook, PayPal Entrepeneur Pays Kids to Drop Out of College

Filed under: In The News, Education: Teens

A 43-year-old billionaire has set aside $2 million to get kids younger than 20 to drop out of college. Credit: Getty Images


Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking attended Oxford and Cambridge universities and eventually changed the way we look at the universe.

He would probably tout the advantage of a college education.

Yeah, but Peter Thiel was one of the guys who invented PayPal. And not only does he want you to drop out of college, but he's willing to pay you to do it.

Who are you going to listen to?

"Learning is good. Credentialing and debt is very bad," Thiel tells ABC News. "College gives people learning and also takes away future opportunities by loading the next generation down with debt."

So, the 43-year-old billionaire has set aside $2 million to get kids younger than 20 to drop out of college. He gives kids $100,000 each to bag school in favor of starting a business.

Good idea, right? Some half of new businesses fail, but how could that possibly happen to a spunky teenager armed with a high school diploma?

Thiel says, believe it or not, the idea is working.

"We ended up picking 24 people to try to get them to work on very specific projects that would push the frontiers of science and tech in areas ranging from biomedicine to computers to robotics," he tells ABC.

Pushing the frontiers of biomedicine, computers and robotics? With a high school education?

Thiel has a law degree from Stanford University -- maybe he should have bought a Porsche instead. He tells ABC he doubts the value of a college education. And his doubts are spreading.

Editors of New York magazine recently rated the worthlessness of a college degree as "one of the year's most fashionable ideas." Then again, what do you expect? Most of them were probably journalism majors.

Thiel tells ABC young people need to strike while the iron is hot.

"Facebook was started in 2004," he points out. "That was the right time to start that company. If all the people had finished their college education and waited till 2006, it would have been too late."

Thiel's initial $500,000 investment in Facebook, by the way, is now worth some $2 billion.

Among the young buying what Thiel is selling is Eden Full, who dropped out of Princeton to pursue an idea for new solar panels.

"These panels are so unique," she tells ABC. "I need to get them out there now."

Some 65 percent of Americans have student loan debt, and the typical college student leaves school $24,000 in the hole, according to ABC. By the end the year, the network estimates, student loan debt will surpass credit card debt in the United States.

"The price of education on a college level has gone up by a factor of more than 10 since 1980," Thiel tells ABC. "Adjusted for inflation, it's gone up by about 300 percent -- more than housing and tech stocks did in the '90s or housing in the 2000s. It's quite possible for a person to go to a top-tier private school and end up with a quarter million in debt."

But even if young people can have more money and less debt by not going to college, what about the intrinsic value of a college education? What about the importance of having an educated population able to make intelligent decisions in a free and self-governing society?

And what about the need for young people understand the world so they can make it a better place?

Thiel tells ABC his ideas have already made the world a better place. PayPal enables people to buy stuff on eBay without having to get a money order. And next up? Thiel is working with people who want to create colonies in the middle of earth's oceans.

Take that, Dr. Hawking.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.