Higher Education: Yes or No

Americans are unique. One created a history by creating a company of $1000 billion last week. In process, he also created about 10 more billionaires and some millionaires too. One among them is a second generation Indian also. Peter Thiel, the other billionaire Peter Thiel questioned the need of college education. Interestingly, Thiel also got enriched by about $ 2.14 billion through his holding in Facebook.

Interestingly, Thiel is paying 20 young people under 20 $100,000 a year to drop out or not go to college in order to pursue new business ideas.

CBS “60 Minutes” last Sunday had a story on the issue. It had Thiel to put forward his ideas and presented Vivek Wadhwa to comment on Thiel’s proposition. Vivek Wadhwa teaches at Duke and Stanford universities

Thiel has made his fortune as an Internet entrepreneur. He has founded “The 20 Under 20 Fellowship” as an alternative to higher education. His critics have called it an “elitist ploy.”

In the “60 Minutes” interview, Thiel was very much forthright and told CBS’s Morley Safer: “We have a bubble in education, like we had a bubble in housing. … Everybody believed you had to have a house; they’d pay whatever it took…Today, everybody believes that we need to go to college, and people will pay – whatever it takes.”

Parents all over the world endeavour to pay whatever is required for the higher education of their wards. My daughter-in-law has been working real hard pursuing the higher education in medical profession since almost last 10 years. I presume the profession of doctor in US is very high earning one. I was amazed to hear Thiel saying, “There are all sorts of vocational careers that pay extremely well today, so the average plumber makes as much as the average doctor.” And then Thiel said to my utter surprise, “only half of recent college grads are employed full-time and tuition has quadrupled over the past 30 years,” and believed “the system is broken and its promises are hollow.” “We now have $1 trillion in student debt in the U.S. … Cynically, you can say it’s paid for $1 trillion of lies about how good education is.”

I don’t know if it was intentional. Wadhwa in the interview appeared to be very soft in countering Thiel’s proposition.
Wadhwa told Safer. “What I worry about is a message that’s getting out there to America that it’s OK to drop out of school, that you don’t have to get college. Absolutely dead wrong.”

Wadhwa conceded that the people chosen for the “20 Under 20” have good ideas, but he insists a college education is needed to “turn those ideas into inventions and companies/” However, he said, “The majority of them will fail. And they’re going to regret not having completed their education.”

In the programme, Wadhwa was not made to debate Thiel face to face. I wonder if the debate could have been on the line the US presidential candidates debate.

Unfortunately, the situation in higher education sector is becoming grim. While the higher education in reputed US universities is becoming unaffordable, with outsourcing employment has shrunk. One going for education loan would certainly relish its burden for the rest of one’s life.

US has many examples of the top few entrepreneurs such Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or Facebook’s Zuckerberg who didn’t have any formal higher education. Similar stories may be there in other countries too, including India and China. However, the dream of every young person becoming entrepreneur is equally elusive. Perhaps the route to the entrepreneurship may go through the institutes of higher learning. And that only can provide the opportunity to a larger mass to get into entrepreneurship that can be more sustainable.

With India following everything that US does, higher education is getting costlier and education loans are becoming popular.

I see higher education different today after more than 50 years that I left IIT.

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