The current, and the money, is beginning to flow the other way. Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, has read the tea leaves, seen the pattern in the carpet, and felt the shifting winds of change. Here’s the relevant headline form The Chronicle of So-Called Higher Education:
The most important data point is not the 100,000 smackeroos but the word “talented.”
Mr. Thiel is not interested in providing furloughs for the mediocre, the uninspired, the weary, or the time-servers. He wants to nab tomorrow’s Steve Jobs, the Bill Gates of 2020, the up-and-coming Peter Thiel who requires not “diversity training” and lessons in how Shakespeare was a colonialist but an atmosphere that encourages real engagement with real-life problems. “The fellowship seeks to help winners develop their ideas more quickly than they would at a traditional university,” the Chronicle reports, adding that “Its broader aim goes beyond helping the 24 winners, by raising big questions about the state of higher education.”
Indeed. The Thiel fellowship, which pays the winners not to attend college for two years, “has sparked heated debate in academic circles.” And why would that be: why, “for questioning the value of higher education and suggesting that some entrepreneurial students may be better off leaving college.”
It goes deeper. Mr. Thiel’s initiative is just the latest sign that the edifice of higher education is looking more and more like the House of Usher. “Mr. Thiel ignited controversy,” the Chronicle continues, “when he told TechCrunch in April that he sees higher education as the next bubble, comparable to previously overvalued markets in technology and housing.”
The Chronicle drily notes that “Both cost and demand for a college education have grown significantly in the years since Mr. Thiel was a student. He sees that rise as irrational.” In other words, what can’t go on forever will not go on forever.