Facebook and PayPal's Peter Thiel Pays College Students to Drop Out

He's given 24 young adults $100K to skip the degree and start a business.

ByABC News
May 26, 2011, 5:15 AM

May 26, 2011 — -- PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel knows a thing or two about finding the next big thing.

Thiel was the first investor in Facebook and predicted the dotcom crash and the housing bubble. Now he believes the next big thing to burst is higher education, and he's willing to put his money on it.

"Learning is good. Credentialing and debt is very bad," he said. "College gives people learning and also takes away future opportunities by loading the next generation down with debt."

The 43-year-old with a net worth of $1.5 billion recently started a $2 million fund to get college students younger than 20 to drop out of school and start a business with $100,000 each.

"We ended up picking 24 people to try to get them to work on very specific projects that would push the frontiers of science and tech in areas ranging from biomedicine to computers to robotics," Thiel told ABC News.

Even though Thiel has a law degree from Stanford, he's still questioning the value of a college education. New York Magazine recently rated the worthlessness of a college degree as "one of the year's most fashionable ideas."

"Facebook was started in 2004. That was the right time to start that company," said Thiel, whose $500,000 investment in Facebook is now worth about $2 billion. "If all the people had finished their college education and waited till 2006, it would have been too late."

College students Eden Full and Jim Danielson say they are not willing to take that chance. They've dropped out of college and put their ideas and inventions on the fast track with Thiel's financial backing. Full said she worried that someone would beat her on her idea for new solar panels, so she passed on a degree from Princeton.

"These panels are so unique," she said, "I need to get them out there now."

Danielson, who turned an old Porsche into a fully electric car while in high school, put the breaks on Purdue.

"I feel like the electric vehicle industry is changing rapidly, and if I passed up this opportunity and waited till I finished my college degree, a lot could be changed," he said. "I could miss the boat on electric vehicles."

Sixty-five percent of Americans have student loan debt, and the typical college student leaves school $24,000 in the hole. According to The New York Times, by the end of the year, the total is expected to surpass the trillion-dollar mark -- that's more than credit card debt in this country.

"The price of education on a college level has gone up by a factor of more than 10 since 1980," Thiel said. "Adjusted for inflation, it's gone up by about 300 percent -- more than housing and tech stocks did in the '90s or housing [in] the 2000s. It's quite possible for a person to go to a top-tier private school and end up with a quarter million in debt."