Fellowship Pays Students $100,000 To Not Attend College

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Dennis Van Tine ./Retna Ltd./Corbis

In an apparent hunt for the next Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates (both famously college dropouts), Peter Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal, will pay 24 college-aged students $100,000 to not attend college for two years. Instead, the students will spend their time developing business ideas in areas such as biotechnology, education and energy.

Of the 400 entrepreneurial-minded applicants, the 24 winners, who are all 20-years-old or younger, will work — where else? — in Silicon Valley with a network of more than 100 mentors who will help develop their ideas. The fellowship program, which plucked students from institutions such as Harvard, Stanford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has been quite controversial as Thiel openly admits he is hoping the winners will learn more in those two years working than they would have by being in school (at some of our nation’s most prestigious universities, mind you).

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And this is not the first time Thiel, who received his bachelor’s and law degrees from Stanford, has been outspokenly opposed to higher ed. In April, he told TechCrunch that he sees higher education as the next bubble, comparable to previously overvalued markets like technology and housing.

College has received a lot of negative publicity as of late as a series of recent reports have questioned the payoff of higher education. Still, while Gates and Zuckerberg might be stellar examples of achievement without a college degree, these billionaire CEOs are in the (microscopic) minority. Indeed, their success is so noteworthy because of how unlikely it is. For the rest of us, the 2010 U.S. Census shows adults who graduate from four-year colleges earn, on average, $19,550 more per year than those adults with only a high school diploma.

Nevertheless, for the 24 students, dropping out of college for the fellowship was worth the gamble. The real test for Thiel’s ambitious program will come in two years when his prodigies will decide whether to continue pursuing their start-ups dreams without the help of college, or to re-enroll.

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