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Nicholson '12.5: An apology for higher education

Peter Thiel, the billionaire co-founder of PayPal and famed foreseer of the first tech bubble, has made another prediction. No, he has not anticipated another Internet bubble implosion or an over-evaluation of emerging markets. According to Thiel, the newest bubble ready to burst is the "higher education bubble."

As reported by the website TechCrunch, Thiel claims, "A true bubble is when something is overvalued and intensely believed. Education may be the only thing people still believe in in the United States. To question education is really dangerous. It is the absolute taboo." For those of us actually working towards the aforementioned "overvalued" Ivy League degree, such statements need clarification and classification.

Thiel, while clumsily muddling the cost of attending an Ivy League university and the cost of a higher education, tries to suggest that those people smart enough to be admitted to such universities do not benefit from attending a fancy college. From his point of view, the average 18-year-old undergraduate leaves college just as smart as he was when he entered. In other words, he has spent tens of thousands of dollars on time that could be better spent starting his own company. The average brilliant teenager is losing not only the money he spends on his education but also that which he could be making on his booming start-up.

On the other hand, for those Americans who are not sufficiently intelligent or well-connected to be accepted into a top-notch university, college is equally frivolous. While two-year universities may be much cheaper, these students are spending money on an education they do not need. At best, these people will eventually be funneled into careers that require nothing more than a high school diploma.

TechCrunch was right, then, to begin their article with the line, "Fair warning: This article will piss off a lot of you." In a predictable maneuver, Thiel takes it a step further by reaffirming his "20 Under 20" initiative, in which he picks 20 gifted teenagers and gives them $100,000 dollars to drop out of school and start their own businesses. Not surprisingly, most of the finalists are from the very Ivy League institutions Thiel disdains, drawing criticism from many.

But Thiel reaffirms he wants the best, which can only be found at universities like Harvard. He proclaims, "Everyone thinks kids in inner-city Detroit should do something else. We're saying maybe people at Harvard need to be doing something else. We have to reset what the bar is at the top." Thiel urges those with the potential to get rich quick to skip the college experience and subsequently save money.

Thiel simplifies the question of the college experience into dollars and cents. The billionaire thinks in terms of economics, not personal growth. Everyone enters college in the name of a better life. At Brown, we have no professional programs, allowing the student to embrace a heterogeneous mindset offered nowhere else. If my college does not funnel me directly into a tech start up, should I consider it a waste of time and money?

Sure, Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard and created Facebook. On the other hand, he also missed out on a crucial stage of socialization in his life, resulting in an infamous biopic and a terrible reputation. Stanford Law School graduate Peter Thiel turns his back on his college experience, where he met PayPal co-founders Keith Rabois and Reid Hoffman. Would his success be possible without the relationships founded at this institution? According to the billionaire, he was smart enough to have done without it. You should be too.

For me, college is not a question of professional training. Being at Brown gives me an unquantifiable way of thinking about the world and culture. In theory, this experience will spill into my future way of thinking, giving me an edge and a more creative point of view. On the other hand, the people I have met here have inspired me to be the best version of myself, to take that extra step I would have never imagined before. In short, our college experience will lead to a better life, no matter what the cost.


Lorraine Nicholson '12.5 is a literary arts concentrator from Los Angeles.



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