20 students get paid $100,000 to drop out of school

PayPal co-founder says that university isn’t the only way to success

As the value of a degree is increasingly scrutinized, PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel is giving 24 whiz kids a sizable incentive to leave their university education behind.

The first members of the 20 Under 20 Thiel Fellowship received grants yesterday of $100 000 to leave their education behind and start their own business. They will pursue projects a wide variety of subject areas, from economics to automotive.

Though he holds a law degree from Stanford, Thiel seems set on breaking the myth the higher education is the only path to success. “Learning is good, credentializing and debt is very bad,” he told ABC News. “College gives people learning and also takes away future opportunities by loading the next generation down with debt.”

What’s striking about the roster of students chosen for the fellowships is how extremely accomplished these individuals already are. They’re the kind of students top universities aim to recruit and show off. Grant recipient Laura Deming was already working in a biogerontology lab by the time she was 12, and enrolled at MIT by the time she was 14. At just 19, fellow recipient Andrew Hsu was a neuroscience PhD candidate at Stanford University, before leaving his program to pursue other projects.

For some of them, this is an opportunity to capitalize on ideas that might pass them by while they’re still in school.

“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,” said Jim Danielson, who is working on developing a more efficient motor for electric vehicles.

Though students have agreed to stop pursuing a formal education for two years, they’re free to go back to school afterwords.

“We’re not saying that everybody should drop out of college,” Thiel explained in the New York Times, but “in our society the default assumption is that everybody has to go to college.”

Three of the fellowship grant recipients are Canadian, including Gary Kurek, who hails from Bonnyville, Alta. He will use his grant to develop more versatile mobility aids for the physically disabled. Princeton student Eden Full, who is originally from Calgary, and Saskatchewan-born Yale student Darren Zhu are also recipients.