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A Superfluous Man: College education isn't for everyone

Peter Thiel is encouraging college students to drop out and actually do something societally productive.

Thiel, a venture capitalist and hedge fund manager, launched a fellowship program through his philanthropic organization The Thiel Foundation, which provides 20 individuals under 20 years old a $100,000 grant.

The only catch: Leave higher education to pursue innovative projects in scientific and technical ideas.

Criticism leveled at Thiel usually characterizes his effort as reckless and hypocritical because Thiel attended Stanford.

However, similar remarks fail to comprehend Thiel’s argument: We are experiencing a bubble in higher education, and college might not be the best option for everyone.

The importance of college is over-inflated. College isn’t necessarily a prerequisite (much less a guarantee) of success; in some instances, the debt incurred from higher education lowers the success rate. Graduating $80,000 in debt is rarely a prudent idea.

Instead of proclaiming every student has the right to a free college education, maybe the problem is a society that looks with derision or elitism at any career path missing a college education.

Of course, college isn’t a waste of time (well, maybe sociology classes). If students know what they want to study and have a way to keep expenses relatively low, college is great. Or, if a course of study justifies large debt with a high-paying career, debt isn’t too threatening.

Not every individual, though, learns or understands the world with a perspective that is conducive in a collegiate atmosphere.

The importance of the Thiel fellowship is that it recognizes college can harm learning and creativity. Instead of constantly encouraging college attendance, the Thiel fellowship wants to cultivate a different way of improving society and education. Whether his initiative fails or not is irrelevant.

I’d much rather watch a crazy billionaire challenge accepted wisdom than read another press release from a university about how fantastic their education programs are. Sparking a conversation about what education actually is, is more valuable than discovering the next Mark Zuckerberg.

Education is treated as a commodity obtained after graduation — it isn’t.

Education and schooling should never be synonymous; education is developed, not inculcated.

A college program has become more of a training program than an educational tool to develop critical thinking and personal growth.

To a certain extent, it’s understandable: Students want marketable skills to secure a job, and universities have been anything but loathe to fulfill that demand. More than that, however, is that the desire for education cannot be taught.

It is subjective to the individual; the assumption that everyone is educable is a democratic myth.

As Albert Jay Nock said, “There are practicable ranges of intellectual and spiritual experience which nature has opened to some and closed to others.”

This isn’t to say that only an elite circle should go to college, but that the democratic dream for every individual to be strongly educated is an inevitable impossibility, no matter how much wealth is concentrated on achieving the goal.

Anthony Hennen is a junior studying journalism and a columnist for The Post. Are you applying for a Thiel Foundation grant? Email Anthony at


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