The high school graduation rate in this country is less than 70%. We struggle to keep kids in school, let alone to provide them with the best possible learning experiences while they're there.
I don't think Peter Thiel was thinking of this statistic when he announced onstage at Techcrunch Disrupt today the establishment of an initiative to encourage 20 kids under the age of 20 to drop out of school, with the promise of $100,000 to fund their good ideas. More details on exactly what that means are to follow, I guess.
In making the announcement, Thiel, best known perhaps as one of Paypal's cofounders and as an early investor in Facebook, stated a philosophy that is pretty common in the tech world: there are lots of things people learn at school (and by "school," he means "college"), but they don't learn entrepreneurship. Furthermore, Thiel says, kids leave school burdened with incredible amounts of student loan debt, and so feel compelled to look for salaries to pay bills rather than pursue opportunities to build science and technology startups.
As someone paying off grad school debt by blogging, I can appreciate that. Really, I can. As someone who's had to scramble to educate herself on the startup world in order to write for ReadWriteWeb, I understand that hustling to launch your business may not be conducive to pursuing MBA - either in terms of time or curriculum.
And as someone who wants to encourage young folks' interest in science, technology, and entrepreneurship, it's hard not to support programs that want to build those strengths... right up to the point where the program is couched in terms of dropping out of school.
I also understand that college isn't for everyone. And I know there are stories of wildly successful dropouts. But I'd wager there are even more stories of folks who've dropped out and failed, not to mention the stories of successful folks who've amassed multiple advanced degrees.
For the record, Thiel calls the program "stopping out of school," not "dropping out of school," so perhaps I'm being unfair. Perhaps Thiel just wants to encourage 20 really bright kids to "stop" school for 2 years to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams via his new program. I guess, I just want a world where you don't have to make a choice between education and entrepreneurship, and where you don't leave college $80K in the hole.