Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Paid To Drop Out Of School

Would you drop out of college for $100,000? That is exactly what entrepreneur Peter Thiel is proposing to 20 lucky winners of his foundation's "20 Under 20" contest. The winners will receive a two year stipend valued at $100,000 and mentorship from a network of entrepreneurs en route to creating their own startup company. The only stipulation is that the winners drop out of college or high school to focus full time on building their business.

I found the Thiel Foundation's article on The Economist website. You can read the full post on Thiel's quest to incentivize drop outs here. So why would a college graduate who made millions co-founding Paypal and investing in Facebook want kids to drop out of college?

"We're excited to be working with them, and we hope they will help young people everywhere realise that you don't need credentials to launch a company that disrupts the status quo," said Thiel.

Thiel contends that most kids go to college to avoid thinking about the future and that, by incurring so much debt, many students are actually more at risk by being stovepiped into a career in order to pay back that debt. His foundation is targeting young entrepreneurs who have a plan to create wealth but may otherwise be tempted into attending college versus carrying out their dream. Of course his foundation is drawing plenty of criticism but Thiel responds by saying that people can always go back to college.

I have a few thoughts on this interesting endeavor.

1. We live in a society that loves credentials - Earning a college degree is a great thing. I enjoyed my college educational experience and wouldn't trade it for anything. However, is a college degree really an indicator of success? I would argue it is what you did to reach that point that contributes to your likelihood of success. Yet we as a society love someone who is stamped with a certification, a degree, or a license. Perhaps it the most consistent, quickest, and easiest way to justify your betting on an individual's future prospects but it is by no means a sure thing. I have definitely noticed this throughout my military career, as the military culture places a premium on having a masters degree and no merit in what that degree is in, the quality of the institution, or how the individual has leveraged the skills that were supposedly enhanced by that degree. My sense is that Thiel is frustrated with credentialism within our education system and that is part of the reason he started his foundation.

2. Education leading to action, action leading to education - My educational experience definitely helped me launch my own entrepreneurial venture. To say otherwise would be a lie. That being said, I have often wondered whether it was necessary for the success of my charity. Would I have been able to work alongside my friends to create our charity with a lesser education, or no college at all? I am not sure, but my guess is that based on my values, personality, and skill set that I could have created something special given the same amazing team to work with. Maybe not to the same extent, but I don't think the creation was dependent on my education. What I find interesting is that most people think that you have to learn before you begin, whereas I find I learn the most by beginning. My education definitely supplemented my ability to launch my charity but I think launching my charity really solidified all that instruction into actionable knowledge and experience.

3. If you are passionate and have a plan don't fear rejecting the status quo - I didn't start Checking For Charity until after I graduated college. However, I have experienced the social pressures and comments of a society who feels that it is a necessity to go straight to college after high school. My senior year of high school I was drafted in the United States Hockey League. It had been a goal of mine to earn a Division I Hockey Scholarship since I was a young teen, and in order to achieve that goal I knew I had to play junior hockey. Even prior to getting drafted, I did not apply to a single college. People thought I was crazy. Even people in the hockey community thought it was risky. But I knew that it was my passion and that I would achieve the goal no matter what. I had a plan of how to achieve my goal, and I had the passion to get me there. It's funny because looking back I really didn't have any fear. I knew I would make it happen. Since I have gotten older and taken on more life responsibilities that same confidence can be a bit harder to come by, but I truly believe that the lesson still holds true. If you love what you do and have a plan to accomplish your goals don't listen to the naysayers....make it happen. Thiel discusses a similar theme in his video interview below.

You can view the full video of his interesting interview below.

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