Getting $100,000 to not go to college

The media has been in full-scale, full-court press noting Peter Thiel’s fellowship fund that gives $100,000 to 24 students who who have to write a proposal for their idea. If they win, they get to go work in Silicon Valley where Thiel believes, they will learn more than they would if they went to college.

There have been various and sundry responses, as Thiel outspokenly argues that going to college is a waste of time and money.

Oddly enough, I agree in some ways. ZOMG, a college professor said that? ZOMG! Why that’s just proof!

Um, no. I’m saying that if your plan is to go to college so that you can make money, there are other, faster ways of making money. And if some zillionaire is going to give you the capital and the connections to do that, go for it. If you fail, so what? You can always back to college if you want to. Or you can start over.

One of my brilliant colleagues, Darius Lackadawalla, said once “You’re always teaching.” Just so, you’re always learning, too. It’s the fundamental rule of human interaction and communication. You can learn and teach anywhere. I don’t have a monopoly on anything.

It’s weird, but college athletes might actually be a good comparison here. Kobe Bryant and Lebron James did not go to college. Straight from high school to the NBA, they are probably now much, much better off financially than had they foregone that income to go to college. And as an instructor who has plenty of athletes in my class who would rather not be in my class…why not let them go do what they love the most in the world–what they are willing to spend 10 hours a day practicing at? Rather than make them suffer through school they don’t like.

Instead, let the ones that have used to sports to go to college, well, go to college, and let the ones that are using college to get to sports…go do their sport.

Michael Jordan went to college first, and I’d argue it did benefit him financially. Much, much savvier about handling the press because of learning it under the wing of UNC coach Dean Smith (a man I respect greatly as an educator), than Bryant, Jordan’s endorsements probably exceed Bryants’ by an exponent–not inconsequentially because Bryant showed his young adulthood to the world and, like many young adulthoods, it wasn’t at all a pretty one.

And like college athletes, the truth is, most basketball players, even players in the NBA, are not Kobe Bryant or Lebron James or Michael Jordon. They aren’t. Plenty of them benefit from the additional time they get to mature in college. (Whether they should do that in college, or in a farm system that the NBA has to pay for, is another debate).

Just so, most of us are not people who are going to be among the 25 people who get handed $100,000 at the age of 18 or 19 from Thiel, and many of us, like me, would never get that from our parents. I also don’t see banks stepping in to capitalize a kid’s idea, either. But, again, if so, more power to you.

I have moved across socio-economic classes in the US entirely because of education. That, to me, has been a nice subsidiary effect of learning about the world that I occupy, and, most importantly, learning the contours and eddies of my own mind and spirit.

That is what education is for. Like food, it has its pure utilitarian value–how much money it puts in your wallet or takes out–and its pleasure value.