What would you choose; a university degree or $100K?

I’ve been reading with interest some responses to Peter Thiel’s (founder of PayPal & Facebook investor) announcement that he is to provide 24 young people with $100k to drop out of college and start their own businesses.  http://www.fastcompany.com/1755089/legendary-investor-peter-thiel-names-dream-team-of-whiz-kids

It seems that he believes that the benefits of higher education are over-hyped, that “traditional education steers young people away from entrepreneurship and into steady jobs” ref  and he’s picked an impressive team of young people to prove his theory. But therein lies the paradox.  If this group of incredibly talented, but clearly non-conformist, individuals can become the most successful entrepreneurs of tomorrow,  without finishing college, does it therefore imply that higher education holds everyone back from becoming successful entrepreneurs?

Its true that the vast majority of graduates are looking for steady employment, but that is true for the vast majority of working-age people.

A university education, and the subsequent degree, gives young people specialist knowledge and confidence in their own ability to achieve whatever they set out to achieve.  For most, that will be a steady job, but for some it will be to build the Microsoft or Amgen of the future. Maybe they will start the company from scratch, or maybe they will work their way up through the ranks to become the CEO that takes their company to the next level.

Its true that many successful entrepreneurs are non-conformists who would never have followed a conventional educational path.  These are the ones we seem to hear about the most. There seems to be an inverse snobbery about people having academic qualifications. Why is that? Is it because an academic qualification is still seen as somewhat elitist? Is it because people like to hear about those that triumph ‘against the odds’?

I’m willing to bet that for every one of these high profile, self made successes, there are many more that are successful because they worked hard to complete a degree, getting the best education that they could in order to be the best they could be. I think we should celebrate these individuals, and highlight the role that education played in their success. Maybe then we would see even more graduates go on to become successful entrepreneurs and ‘intrepreneurs’ (innovate from within an existing company).  What do you think?

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About Fiona

Fiona is a passionate advocate of the Scottish entrepreneurial spirit, especially our students. She was once a scientist and is a keen supporter of the Scottish life sciences community. She is a powerful networker and loves to put people in touch with others who can help and inspire them.
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6 Responses to What would you choose; a university degree or $100K?

  1. patrick says:

    A lecturer friend went to MIT for a year. He said that the biggest difference between their students and those at Cambridge was that MIT undergrads commonly arrive desperate to master fluid dynamics/calculus/contracts/logistics -because they are already running an embryo spaceplane tourism business, or whatever. Once they have enough of what they need, those people leave (the certificate means nothing to them).

    Maybe Universities should offer a one-year smorgasbrod of high-quality modules to allow real entrepreneurs to equip themselves?

  2. Sean says:

    I think it comes down to what you makes you happy. For some it is being employed and others it is starting a company…

    I appreciate you bringing up – perspective – in that people won’t pursue a course of action if they don’t know it exists or even the basics of getting started. Being an entrepreneur would certainly fit into that category, but there are a number of great resources available for those that have a beginning interest. I think people enjoy stories that they can relate too and hearing about drop outs becoming very successful because it is interesting… I think writers are triggering the – “I finished school and am not making millions this year – why is that? how were they able to do it?”

  3. suzanneedge says:

    I’m with you on that Fiona. We just don’t hear about the successful people who have finished a degree shouting it was the best thing they ever did.
    I have two bachelor degrees and yet I don’t “use” either of them directly – but I do use the transferable skills, the experience, the knowledge and the friendships and I valued the opportunity to try new things out in the relatively protected environment that Universities provide. No, I am not working as a molecular biologist and I don’t practice medicine, but I wouldn’t be where I am with my current business and aspirations without having finished these degrees. That’s worth far more to me and my future than £100k investment. However, I doubt I would have come to the same conclusion whilst I was a student – the retrospectascope is a marvellous tool.

    • Fiona says:

      Thanks Suzanne, I agree about the benefits of trying things out in the protected environment of university, and I love the ‘retrospectascope’!

  4. An interesting perspective Fiona – thanks for sharing.

    An additional thought that occurred to me on Friday night was that universities (especially in Scotland) have a long way to go in terms of encouraging entrepreneurship. We have to make sure they are shown that there is another option. From that perspective I can see Peter Thiels point – on my university course easily 90% went to work in the financial sector and this was actively promoted – starting a business wasn’t.

    In my opinion univiersities play a role in evolving the whole person into a rounded individual. However, if the universities as part of that remove the spirit of entrepreneurialism and don’t show it as an option then it’s dangerous. This is where organisations such as SIE can play a big role as well as getting successful entrepreneurs into speak to students.

    • Fiona says:

      I agree, and it comes down to role models again, and the opportunity to try different things. Why do little boys want to drive fire engines? Because they play with toy fire engines and can imagine driving one. Why do so many teens want to be pop stars or footballers? Because they get lot of publicity (and money) and people can see what they do. Hard to explain what its like to run a business.

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