Paypal founder Peter Thiel is offering financial incentives to high school students under 20 to avoid post-secondary education and go the route of the entrepreneur. Thiel pledged $100,000 over a period of two years as a “scholarship” to 24 carefully selected high school students so they can start businesses or fund research.
With undergraduate degrees becoming more commonplace, this fund seems like an excellent way to challenge the conventional path. Attending a post-secondary school is stressful, a heavy commitment and the cost may result in years of debt. Receiving funds to work straight out of high school makes it hardly worth it to tough out the four years it takes to earn a standard degree.
This is not to say that a university degree is devoid of worth. An undergraduate education can be rewarding, but for many it’s an unrealistic luxury. Thiel’s scholarships provide an opportunity to some who may not be lucky enough to have multiple educational options.
Conventional education also has the potential to discourage true creativity, forcing students to think inside the box. Markets value innovation and becoming more educated can hinder imagination.
A degree is currently a must-have for many jobs, but as markets change, this isn’t always the case.
Employers may prefer a worker with initiative and independence rather than simply checking their pedagogical credentials.
An unfortunate side effect of the scholarships is that instead of drawing attention to the flaws of our current education system—one that has been criticized for being antiquated and inadequate—it chooses to abandon it altogether.
Furthermore, the business world is a risky place, and having an innovative idea is not enough to guarantee success. Dreams and fortunes are wagered and gambled, with only a slight margin for success. In university, the consequences of a misstep are much lighter, and a poor performance is an expected part of the learning process. Ultimately the choice is personal and neither the decision to pursue post-secondary education or to enter the work force is decidedly right or wrong. University teaches various skills, perhaps most pertinently the skills of critical analysis and communication—two faculties which are of particular help in the business world.
It’s unlikely having a degree will hinder an individual’s success in business but the costs and benefits of schooling should be carefully weighed. The Thiel scholarships are a testament to the fact that people can be successful without being scholars.
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