Peter Thiel Is Wrong — Entrepreneurs Should Stay in School

Tim Goral's picture
Thursday, April 25, 2013

I am a stick-in-the-mud. I disagree with PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel – I want people to stay in college if they possibly can, rather than dropping out to work full time on startups. I want people to take art history, to broaden their knowledge of literature, world religions, history, political science and foreign languages, among other subjects.

I worry that in our rush to mint the next set of exciting founders (and, for investors, to fund them), we do them a disservice. That disservice arises from a monomaniacal approach to learning computer science and coding. Of course, these are important components of an education. But they are just components. Over-focusing on these attributes deprives students of the social skills and social network that come with being in school for four years and studying away (hopefully abroad).

I regret not having availed myself of several of these opportunities. While in college, I was pretty concerned about (and short on) finances, but the real issues for me were that (a) I lacked the courage and self-confidence to study abroad and (b) I was a kid making decisions that reflected my naiveté and immaturity.

Universities have long had core curricula because they paternalistically want to ensure that there’s some uniformity of academic credentials among their alums. In my case, it’s that a Haverford College education means something — a shared experience living under Haverford’s honor code and that we all read “Moby Dick.” That uniformity of academic foundation has value. So does the goal of achieving a baseline of literacy across multiple disciplines.

With this background, I’m supportive of an entrepreneurship major, but I’d oppose permitting it to exempt students from history, politics and literature because they would lose something important. The most highly regarded tech bloggers write well. Check out Alex Payne, for instance, who is a total techie but wonderfully articulate. Tech founders who succeed certainly have an obligation to be politically informed, if not politically active. And don’t all citizens of a nation have an obligation, especially if they’ve gained access to higher education, to be politically informed? College has the benefit of entitling students to actually focus on learning. Working full time rarely does, though surely the best jobs are those in which learning is a constant component.

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