Is Education Worth It?

Posted: April 13, 2011 in Academic, News/Current Events
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Class of 2007, USAF Academy Graduation Hat Hur...

Image by Beverly & Pack via Flickr

A rather controversial article on TechCrunch this past weekend has apparently caused quite a stir, begetting a follow-up article on the same website. The originator of all the fuss was PayPal co-creator and early Facebook investor Peter Thiel, who proposed that people who drop out of college, or otherwise opt to pursue other avenues to success, are more successful than those who complete college. His basic thesis seems to be: education is overrated and mostly unneeded to be successful. If that is true, then I am profoundly disappointed. After all the all-night study sessions, papers, projects, deadlines and do-nothing group project leeches, I prefer to think of all of my education as a good use of my time. Perhaps only slightly less cynically, I can think of it as something no one can ever take away from me. I may not be a multimillionaire tech entrepreneur, but at least I can put some letters after my name on my business card.

Rather than just bash the guy for putting forth his theory on what makes a success, I will agree with him that the status placed on education, indeed on anything of value, depends upon its scarcity among the general population. In the article, he asks “If Harvard were really the best education, if it makes that much of a difference, why not franchise it so more people can attend? Why not create 100 Harvard affiliates?” In other words, if the goal of education is to be accessible to the greatest number of people, thereby increasing the creative potential of the entire nation, why not take away the pompousness now associated with it? In essence, why not make everyone successful by creating a more success-oriented system? After all, “all boats rise with the tide,” do they not?

The article goes on to describe how Thiel has engaged in an ‘experiment’ in which he is auditioning students from the most elite universities from around the United States. Twenty finalists will be selected and given $100,000 over two years to leave school and start a company instead. In the follow-up article referenced above, Vivek Wadhwa put it to a group of Deans from Engineering departments at schools from around the country (all of them “elite”) to see what they thought of Thiel’s postulate. The consensus is that to drop out after you have started is just plain dumb. They seem to ask in unison, ‘Why not finish what you start?’ After all, part of what makes going to school worthwhile is the satisfaction of completing it, isn’t it?


  1. Set goals that relate to the high priorities in your life. Without this type of focus, you can end up with far too many goals, leaving you too little time to devote to each one. Goal achievement requires commitment, so to maximize the likelihood of success, you need to feel a sense of urgency and have an “I must do this” attitude. When you don’t have this, you risk putting off what you need to do to make the goal a reality. This in turn leaves you feeling disappointed and frustrated with yourself, both of which are de-motivating. And you can end up in a very destructive “I can’t do anything or be successful at anything” frame of mind.

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