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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Is College Always Worth It? A Look at Peter Thiel's Idea

Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal.
By Aaron S. Robertson

In case you may not have already heard this, Peter Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal and an early investor in Facebook, recently announced that he is awarding grants to the tune of $100,000 each to young adults not to go to college - at least, not right away.

Rather than take what is usually considered the traditional route to college at 18 years old, Thiel is encouraging these young adults to instead focus all their time and energy turning their entrepreneurial dreams and ideas into reality.

I believe Thiel is on to something, and something good.

Over the last few years, I've written fairly extensively on this subject in the forms of both a book and a number of online articles.

Taking what is perhaps a little more of a moderate stance than Thiel's, I believe there is certainly a relevant place for, and immense value in, formal education in our society. In fact, for many fields, a formal education is required. That's just how the world operates. I, myself, am contemplating returning to school, and have a meeting lined up with a recruiter at my alma mater, Cardinal Stritch University, shortly.

However, I also feel strongly that colleges and universities need to do a far better job at emphasizing the importance of subjects like financial literacy, personal and professional development, entrepreneurship, developing leadership skills, decision making, and goal planning. These are subjects that all students should be exposed to, regardless of their majors.

I would even take it a step further by arguing that these same subjects should be taught at the high school level - again, to all students, not just in the form of optional elective courses.

If we as a country are to remain competitive in what is increasingly a global community and marketplace, we have no choice but to find ways to work these subjects into mandatory curriculums.

It will be interesting to see how "Thiel's scholars" fare over the next couple of years. I truly wish them the best and encourage them to follow their dreams. If this little experiment proves successful, it will hopefully once and for all awaken the formal post-secondary academic world to the message that it not only needs to hear - but so sorely needs to understand.

What are your thoughts on this? Is Peter Thiel on to something? Is he totally misguided? Do you think our colleges and universities are doing an adequate job preparing our young adults to remain competitive in today's highly global economic climate? Weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section below!

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