Billionaire libertarian businessman Peter Thiel, the founder and former CEO of PayPal, is perhaps best known as the venture capitalist who gave Facebook the angel investment it needed to really get started. But, increasingly, he's getting attention for his controversial views on higher learning. Last year, he launched the Thiel fellowship, which gives grants as large as $100,000 to 20 tech entrepreneurs who drop out of college by age 20 to pursue their own ideas. Then, in a National Review interview earlier this year, Thiel said that higher education is a "bubble in the classic sense," because education is "overpriced," something people have "an intense belief in," and an investment that's unlikely, in the majority of cases, to have a positive return. He made the point again last week at TechCrunch. Given the "financial disaster" of student loan debt surpassing credit card debt, does Thiel have a point?
No, education isn't about returns on an investment: The concept of the education bubble is based on horrifying, false logic, says Freddie deBoer at L'Hote. "To see an education, college or otherwise, as merely a way to increase the amount of money you make is a terrible corruption and fundamentally unsustainable." Increasing earning potential was never meant to be the sole purpose of education, and if it's reduced to that, we're all in trouble.
"Yet another casualty"
Well, college is overpriced: College has gotten too expensive, with state governments cutting aid to public universities, says E.D. Kain in Forbes. But let's not abandon institutions of higher learning. If needed, we should raise taxes to make public universities more affordable. "Yes, education costs money. But that money should not fall squarely on the heads of middle class kids who are forced to take out tens of thousands in debt just to attend school."
"A college education should not result in crushing debt"
And grad school is a particularly poor investment: College is still a good decision for most young Americans, but I can't say the same about grad school, says Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic. Grad school has become a socially acceptable way to drink beer, read, and go into massive debt in your 20s. "Upper-middle-class Americans tend to overvalue the non-financial benefits of grad school." Thiel's wrong about a lot. But at least he's "challenging the cultural assumptions that cause a lot of people to make bad life decisions."
"Is there an education bubble?"
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- Why the Chinese military is only a paper dragon
- Libertarianism's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
- Christian conservatives have a terrifying new bogeyman: The Christian leftist
- How our botched understanding of 'science' ruins everything
- Eric Holder blew it as attorney general. His replacement will, too,
- What the Romney boomlet says about the establishment GOP's feeble 2016 field
- Confronting our twisted relationship with food
Subscribe to the Week