Peter Thiel: “It’s A Mistake” To Think College Is “What Makes People Successful”

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“We have a society where successful people are encouraged to go to college,” said Peter Thiel during a 60 Minutes interview last night about a program he’s sponsored paying students to drop out of college. “But…it’s a mistake to think that that’s what makes people successful.”

Here’s the full segment:

I’ve written about Mr. Thiel’s efforts to change America’s thinking about higher education before.

We can talk about how government policy has distorted higher education markets, inflating the cost of education and diminishing the value of a degree, but we should remember that the policy was put in place to satisfy American obsession with higher education.

There is this assumption that the only path to prosperity and success is through college. That’s why you hear politicians talk all the time about wanting to send very American kid to college. But college is just one means to an end. There are a lot of ways to find prosperity, and running up 5 or 6 figures in student loan debt to get a college degree isn’t necessarily the best way. Or even a way.

America’s attitude about higher education, and the government policy that has followed it, has been great for the higher education industry. Employment for faculty – and even more so administrators – is high, and compensation is extremely lucrative and growing more so all the time. But it hasn’t been so great for America.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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  • mikemc1970

    Look at that Occupy movement. Just full of successful college graduates.

    • Collectyourprize!

      Congrats, Rob! I think this is the 100,000,000th article on how going to college is a waste of time and money! 90,000,000 times wasn’t enough, so thank you for going all the way to 100,000,000! Now its time to solve the mystery on why you hate post-secondary education so much? Is it score from earning a useless Communications degree I wonder????

      • mikemc1970

        I’m not Rob. Lay off the crack.

      • guest

        100,000,000 – 90,000,000 = 10,000,000 ???
        90,000,000 + 1 100,000,000

        Fyi.  The correct answer.
        If Rob has written 90,000,000 articles, this would be the 90,000,001th article.

        What college did you attend?  You may want a refund.

  • Guest

    I for one don’t think Doctors, Lawyers, Accountants, Pilots, etc. should go to college…I mean, what could those silly institutions teach them that they couldn’t simply learn “on the job.”

    I’m with you Port…let’s shutdown those bastions snobbish tomfoolery!

    • Roy_Bean

      A generation ago college educated people were the managers who supervised workers who were not college educated.  What this guy is saying is that if you are going to work in a field that doesn’t require the education then you are better off not borrowing yourself into the poor house just to be the best educated carpenter on the job site.  You are better off going to a trade school that will teach you to be a carpenter, electrician, plumber, welder or any number of other skills that will provide a decent living without paying off loans until you are retirement age.  A good capitalist will invest in things that provide a return on investment.  In many cases today college just isn’t one of those things.

      • bobby

        “a good capitalist will do x” …. You missed the point.

        • mikemc1970

          No you did, because you’re not a capitalist, you’re a socialist.

          • bobby

            I know you are but what am I?

          • mikemc1970

            You’re a socialist.

          • bobby

            I do love a party.

          • mikemc1970

            Well we can have a pity party for you.

          • bobby

            Could you? Send a pizza.

          • mikemc1970

            I’m sure you think you’re entitled to a free one.

          • bobby

            i wouldn’t buy it from you. Duane’s or a pc will do.

          • mikemc1970

            You wouldn’t except with  food stamps.

          • bobby

            and, ad hom., I know you are but what am I, ad inf.

          • mikemc1970

            You’re a socialist just like your master Obama.

          • bobby

            Are you serious or a jest? My master obama? Honestly, if this is how you think, that those who disagree with you, slightly, are beholden to whatever your notion of whatevermadness, I pitty your wife

          • mikemc1970

            You think that any one who disagrees with Obama is a racist. Do you think that you’re the only one who can play Alinsky games?

          • bobby

            Whoa bro. This is funny! I guess I don’t much care for political technique.

          • mikemc1970

            Say it with me “President Romney” Don’t worry you’ll have eight years to get used to it.

          • bobby

            You see the point, right? From your statement, I can surmise that you don’t understand functioning markets beyond social dogma. Capitalism isn’t a moral or immoral thing, and I don’t get how socialism fits here. What is your name? You insulted me or something, and I know that, on this blog, when you say you are insulted you demand a name.

          • mikemc1970

            No you don’t see the point, because you don’t understand things like ROI. If you don’t receive a ROI on your investment in a college degree, what is the point in getting one? You’re better off going to trade school and learning how to weld or something.

          • bobby

            I don’t disagree with what you just said; I was not discussing that point. I was saying that free markets do not define good or bad. If you understand free market economics, you understand that a good or bad capitalist, vis capitalism as defined within that free market, shouldn’t be.

          • mikemc1970

            Free markets define what is feasible. If a degree isn’t feasible and as expensive as government intervention into the student loan business has made it, it has become so much less feasible in the last 20 years that almost always a trade degree will serve you better. But then that’s why you want to do away with the free market.

          • bobby

            Hey guy, this makes no sense. I mean I am sure you had a point to make, but if you plant cheap seed and don’t water it…

          • mikemc1970

            No my argument just went over your pointed head. Enjoy your obscurity.

  • WOOF

    Theil has a BA in Philosophy and a Law degree from Stanford.
    Clerked for a federal  court of appeals judge and traded derivatives
    for Credit Suisse.
    An  career path of educational stepping stones.

    He appeals to worshippers of money.
    Thiel wrote:
     “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.”
    Born Frankfurt am Main, West Germany, an immigrant.

    • http://nofreelunch.areavoices.com/ Kevin Flanagan

      He learned from his mistakes; you should, too.

  • Game

    Theil is a typical hypocrite who has made billions after
    going to college for a half dozen years, yet is arrogant enough to think that
    none of that education helped him do so. At the peak of the Bush recession, unemployment
    for people with only a high school degree was around 18%. For people with a bachelor’s
    degree, it was, at its peak, around 4%.

    Can you become rich and financially successful without a
    college education? Of course you can, but the more educated you are, the better
    your chance of being financial success.

    I think Thiel should put his billions where his mouth is.
    From now on, he should only hire people with a high school education to manage
    his money. No CPA’s or MBA’s for his fiscal team.

    • http://nofreelunch.areavoices.com/ Kevin Flanagan

      Why would an employer hire someone without the burden of college loans over someone who cannot live without a way to repay them? They both cost the same in this Obaconomy.

      • bobby

        Do you work?

        • http://nofreelunch.areavoices.com/ Kevin Flanagan

          I work all day, everyday; how about you?

          • mikemc1970

             Axlerod overpays him for his troll work.

          • bobby

            I wish. Stop driving down wheat prices, morons don’t help commodities in the real markets. Bait.

          • mikemc1970

            Obama bucks don’t stretch as far as they used to. Stop driving everything prices up, socialist.

          • bobby

            take it back to wisconsin, mr. mccarthy.

          • mikemc1970

            Everyone will be going to Wisconsin. It’s the new place to do business now. Unions lying, unions dieing. Take the country back one state at a time.

          • bobby

            well cheers! You should take weekends.

      • bobby

        Honestly, I mean you have been a running joke for years.

  • Guest1234

    Theil is also a huge Ron Paul supporter – so he’s smarter than most right out of the gate.

  • borborygmi

      College isn’t for everyone. Trade school isn’t  for everyone. Entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone. Farming isn’t for everyone. Unskilled labor isn’t for everyone. Sales isn’t for everyone.  The opportunity to do what you want is still available in the USA.
     Personal experience, a college education benefitted  myself, my wife and my sons.  School loans helped make it happen.  Raise the entrance levels of 4 year universities.  Higher ed shouldn’t be the domain of the rich.  If you have to take out a loan, it is just that ,a loan, to be payed back.  
       “I think Thiel should put his billions where his mouth is.From now on, he should only hire people with a high school education to managehis money. No CPA’s or MBA’s for his fiscal team.”     I agree.  I suppose the person piloting his jet learned from just riding along, absorbing the knowledge needed.  
      I like the ad before the start.  Invest in the future, Invest in Teachers. The Science and Math Initiative.

  • bobby

    Rob,

    Good deal of truth here. Problematic is your obsession with the matter. As a college dropout, I am sure you must feel some internal drive to discredit post k12 education. It is fair to say that you have succeeded, certainly you had a leg up by spending time working for your dad’s PI company. How do you square employment rates for those without post k12 education (outside of ak and nd) and those with? Add in the mix the fact that the average bear’s wages have not increased at the same rate of productivity. we have a mess I guess.

  • borborygmi

    You describe administrators as conmen……”Not all of them but certainly the for profit schools, the less good colleges”   Is he against profit?    THiel:  ” If you life plan is to be Professor, or a Doctor or some other career that you need a specific credential you should and probably need to go to college”…   When you listen to the people he selected, they are focused intelligent individuals. When you enter into higher education you should be focused like them.  
        Thiel comments that the people he selected aren’t spending 1/4 million dollars.  He is correct they are given, given $100,000. Slackers.  

    • http://nofreelunch.areavoices.com/ Kevin Flanagan

      Are you admitting to being an educrat?

      • borborygmi

        Ummm yah, wait no.wait wait….What is your definition of an educrat?

  • http://realitybasedbob.sayanythingblog.com/ realitybasedbob

    Are all libertarians TOTAL DOOOOOOOSHs or does it just seem like they all are?

  • http://realitybasedbob.sayanythingblog.com/ realitybasedbob

    In related higher education news, teabagsters are stupid.

    Stupid Teabaggers: 10 GOP Freshman Speak at 8th Grade Level

    …It shouldn’t surprise anyone who follows politics that the stridently anti-intellectual tea party Republicans would have the top fifteen lowest speaking levels. Not every member of the intellectual low ballers was new to Congress. Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) has been in Congress for
    eleven years, and he speaks at a seventh grade level. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett has been in the House for fifteen years, and he also speaks at a seventh grade level.

    • mickey_moussaoui

      I know several teabaggers that are multi millionairs. How stupid is that ?

      • http://realitybasedbob.sayanythingblog.com/ realitybasedbob

        God works in mysterious ways.

        • WillieB

           Which is why he created you crippled from the neck up.

    • WillieB

       How else would you and the other dem/libs understand what’s being said.

  • mickey_moussaoui

    In Madison Wisconsin you can’t even get a job driving taxi with a Masters degree. That’s because all the drivers have PHD’s.
    heh heh

  • http://realitybasedbob.sayanythingblog.com/ realitybasedbob

    Ya know who else was anti intellectual?
    Hitler.
    http://histclo.com/youth/youth/org/nat/hitler/hitlera.htm

    • mickey_moussaoui

      So you and Hitler have alot in common

  • Seangustavo

    Tom Bertoli is a great political operative!

  • joe mauer

    We get it Rob, you didn’t finish college.

  • Reggy

    College definitely isn’t for everyone, and it definitely isn’t the only way to reach success.  There’s definitely an issue in this country with the demand of degree-holding labor vs. its supply.  But when all available data states that each step higher on the educational totem pole results in lower unemployment and higher wages, how do you not encourage your kids to go?

  • SigFan

    Having a college degree in and of itself is no guarantor of success for anyone.   Individual drive, ambition, street smarts and a little bit of luck are much more relevant to success than simply having a sheepskin.  Some of the most successful people in the world, such as Bill Gates, did not complete a college education before going on to wild success.  The issue here is really whether the cost of a college education today and the subsequent debt incurred to achieve it are going to yield a ROI that makes it worthwhile.  For some that answer is yes, particularly those that achieve degrees in the hard sciences, medicine or other highly paid professions.  For those that pursue a traditional liberal arts degree, or “______” studies as many of them are called today, the answer is maybe leaning to no.  People need to take a realistic look at the things they have an aptitude for, a desire to become and the marketplace around them before committing themselves to a course of study that may never pay enough to justify the cost of obtaining their degree.  As has been said by others, many of these people would benefit more from apprenticeships, trade schools or in some cases OJT.   And in reality, this is no different today than it has ever been.

  • igx

     “…Trade school isn’t  for everyone. Entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone. Farming isn’t for everyone. Unskilled labor isn’t for everyone. Sales isn’t for everyone. ” No kidding. 
    Get the price of college down so people have a low risk way of improving their lives and becoming better citizens. It’s insanely overpriced right now for no good reason. 

    • borborygmi

      Going to college isn’t for everyone.  Success depends on focus.  I am surprised that you as a conservative admit that a college education (depending on field of study) will improve lives. You may lose your Conservative card or at least be tagged as a Ceratotherium s.simum x D. s. cottoni……..Wait thats the other Rhino.  nevermind. 

      • Awfulorv

        “Going to college isn’t for everyone” seems like a perfect election slogan, which I’m sure Obama will use, after the Student Loan bubble bursts, and another trillion is added to our debt.

      • igx

        It would be really helpful if both sides could think a complicated thought once and awhile. 

  • Hannitized, Proofs obsession

    Anyone else notice how Peter Thiel blames the sub prime lenders for the housing bubble?  Heh!

    • Econwarrior

      And what Party benefited from the mandates to make those sup prime loans, little hanni?  Which Party pushed through the Fair Housing Act and the Community Reinvestment Act?

      • Hannitized, Proofs obsession

        Oh look, another distraction from SAB’s own resident Oppositional Defiant Disorder Troll.

        • Carl

           Oh look, another question little hanni can’t or won’t answer.

  • Jamermorrow

    News Flash. People go to college to party and have a social life. College is a good time. You can live off parents, tax payers, and loans. Plenty of girls to chase around. It may be a waste of time but it is a hell of a good time.

  • mickey_moussaoui

    There’s nothing wrong with secondary education. You just
    have to make something of it afterwards. I know millionaires with 8th grade
    educations and successful doctors with two PHD’s under their belt. As long as you support yourself it doesn’t matter what you do for a living. If you avoid becoming a liberal you are already ahead of the game.

    • awfulorv

      California is trying something new, they’re now marrying Mongoloids to each other, hoping to uncover a gene which will produce Super Humans.  Kid you not, 7% of students are mentally challenged but they’re spending 27% of their education funds on them.  Something needs to be done, this is crazy. And it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the country has to bail them out.

    • factsarefacts

      Agreed.  This blog is notorious for bashing education. Whether it be HS or post HS.  Education is vastly important and in the same breath so are trade schools.  (an education of a different sort.)  

      As long as you aren’t living off of my money, then go for it. Start learning. 

  • mickey_moussaoui

    Bill Gates didn’t go to college.

    • factsarefacts

       And he’s living off of his own money.  Good for him. I’m truly happy for the guy. 

  • igx

    Serious labor economists say the primary benefit is the “signaling effect” that the degree holder is foresighted and disciplined and therefore  desirable to employers. We are over charging for that. 

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