It was just reported that PayPal co-founder & venture capitalist Peter Thiel is offering $100,000 to 24 young entrepreneurs… PROVIDING that they stay out of college for two years to further their business ideas. Thiel, who apparently didn’t practice what he preaches, earned his undergraduate degree and law degree from Stanford University.
He has now appointed the 24 Thiel Fellows for the 20 Under 20 Thiel Fellowship to pursue “innovative scientific and technical projects, learn entrepreneurship, and begin to build the technology companies of tomorrow.” Over a 2-year period, each Fellow will receive $100,000 and mentorship from Thiel’s impressive network, as long as they agree to stay out of college. Upon announcing the fellowship program last year, Thiel stated that many of the world’s most transformative technologies have been created by people “who’ve dropped out of school because they had ideas that couldn’t wait until graduation.”
This announcement comes on the heels of extensive media coverage of rising college tuition costs and a barrage of articles on whether a university degree is still worth pursuing. Just this month (May 2011), the Pew Research Center reported that 57% of respondents believe that higher education is not worth the cost and 75% feel that college is now too expensive for the average American.
According to the College Board, tuition at private universities has tripled over the past 30 years, and costs at public universities go up nearly every year. The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education reports that tuition has increased 5.6% per year above the rate of overall inflation.
Even with the growing skepticism and increased costs of higher education, college education remains a top priority in the. U.S. Fully 94% of parents Pew surveyed plan on sending their child to college.
The Pew report stated that those who graduated from a four-year college believed they earn $20,000 more per year on average due to possessing a degree. Those estimates closely adhere to recent U.S. Census findings that show the average gap in earnings between college and high school graduates is $19,550.
As a dad of 3 young adults (1 earns 6-figures, 1 is entering med school, 1 still an undergrad), as a “child of the ’60s” who got a GED and went on to be a successful entrepreneur with a college degree, and as a Career Coach/Resume Writer with 2 decades advising clients, I have a few insights hopefully worth sharing.
So, to the young people reading this who are wondering if they need a college degree… No. Bill Gates and Peter Thiel are both entrepreneurs, both successful, and only one has a college degree (Hint: It’s not the wealthiest one).
However, would it be VERY advisable for you to pursue a college degree? Absolutely.
Here are the reasons:
1) The future, particularly in today’s volatile economy, is uncertain. There are any number of scenarios that could place today’s young workers or young entrepreneurs back on the job market at some point in the future. As successful as many young entrepreneurs may be, the lack of a university degree would definitely pose a barrier to obtaining many of the best jobs in employment market.
2) By taking advantage of evening and/or weekend courses (or perhaps a reputable online curriculum), you can obtain a degree within a few short years. Whether or not you pursue your degree, those years will pass… So, the only question is, a few years from now, will you have the degree or won’t you?
3) Like it or not, we live in a world of judgment, and at times, snobs. Some should be ignored (“Oh, you didn’t graduate from college! What a shame!”). However, some can either open doors or close them. Whether it is the prospective book publisher for your New York Times bestseller, the Board of Directors of a firm hoping to buy out your business for a billion bucks in the year 2016, your parents or the parents of your spouse, a Fortune 500 company looking to enter into a 7-figure contract with you, or the Director of a government agency wishing to outsource a high-profile program to your firm for a ton of money, the lack of a college degree, as unnecessary as that may seem to you now, could potentially be a deal-breaker.
I have had any number of projects and partnerships that absolutely would not have happened if I did not have the credibility of having a college degree. Also, pursuing a college degree could serve to elevate your status as a role model in the eyes of youth, including your own kids someday.
Let’s face it… Bill Gates, and many more have been fortunate in making it as successful entrepreneurs. But for every Bill Gates who dropped out and struck it rich, there are thousands who dropped out and totally lived to regret it.
4) Just as the successful athlete finishes a degree despite making it big in the pro leagues, in part to serve as a role model, and in part as a fall-back for when & if the millions disappear, so too should you pursue your degree.
5) There is very little downside. Providing that you do not rack up astronomical student loans (be analytical in examining Return on Investment and look for the best value in your choice of schools), and providing that the sweat equity and difficulty of taking on and passing the courses is within the realm of your capabilities, you will forever thank yourself for having done this.
As a career coach and resume writer for nearly two decades, I can honestly state that I have never, even once, had a client who regretted getting an undergraduate degree… but I have had tons of clients regret just the opposite.
So, in summary, I strongly advise today’s youth to “Go For It!” Whether it is to create a career fall-back, to earn a credential that enhances credibility with strategic business partners, to open doors to the future, to serve as a role model to youth, or simply for self-esteem, a college degree, while certainly not an absolute requirement, is an achievement with a documented Return on Investment that you will definitely cherish for your entire career and life.