Dropped Out For Opportunity: Following The Thiel Fellows

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The New York Times published an article recently that checks in on a group of young educational anomalies: the Thiel fellows.

These fellows are in their late teens or early twenties, and were awarded $100,000 grants to drop out of college and pursue their research and business ventures. The program is funded by the Thiel Foundation, launched by Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal, with the idea that four years in college aren’t worth the time and money spent. Instead young people should jump ahead to put one’s ideas on the marketplace.

The Times spoke with Laura Deming, 18, and Eden Full, 20, about the progress of their scientific ventures as they continue in the second year of their fellowship. These two young scientists were the only two women out of the initial 24 chosen fellows to be awarded a fellowship.

Full is continuing to experiment with her low-cost solar panel, the SunSaluter, in Africa. Deming is studying anti-aging therapies with renowned molecular biologists.

The two of them, as well as the other recipients, are given mentors, access to venture capitalists, and the chance to meet gurus in their field and in business.

The Times spoke with Anthony Carnevale, director at the Center for Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University who said these young people are not necessarily an example for others to follow. “These very unusual and talented kids are in a very high-powered learning environment… They’re enormously privileged people who’ve been allowed to develop all their horsepower with no constraints. I think it makes you an odd duck.”

The article quotes experts who say that the choice to forego a college education, is one that many students of color don’t have, and investing in college is definitely worth it. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics as reported in the Atlantic, one’s level of education positively correlates with higher earnings. But The Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, says a bachelor’s degree in science or engineering, can be worth more than a Ph.D. in other subjects.

So the debate over whether a college education is integral to solving this country’s employment problem, rages on. The youth labor force grew by 14.2 percent this past summer, according to the BLS. But almost 50 percent of these young people were working in leisure and hospitality jobs, or retail. Thiel has attracted standouts who would most likely excel in any environment, and has given them the opportunity to cut corners on their road to success. It doesn’t necessarily mean the moral of the story is: drop out.

For more profiles on 20-Under-20 fellows, see below:

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