Students paid $100,000 not to go to college

Nadine Bells
Good News

It sounds like a teenager's dream and a parent's nightmare.

Peter Thiel, PayPal's co-founder, is paying 24 college-aged students $100,000 to just say no — to college.

For two years, winners of the 20 Under 20 Thiel Fellowship have focused on developing business ideas instead of heading to class.

The fellows will work in Silicon Valley with a network of more than 100 mentors where they  "will pursue innovative scientific and technical projects, learn entrepreneurship and begin to build the technology companies of tomorrow," the press release states.

Two Canadians are among those selected.

Eden Full, a 19-year-old woman passionate about making solar power more affordable, is the founder of Roseicollis Technologies, an enterprise she began at the age of 15. Her SunSaluter, a solar-panel-rotation system, currently provides electricity for two small villages in Kenya.

Albertan Gary Kurek, also 19, has spent the last four years developing mobility aids. Inspired by his grandmother's battle with cancer, he built her a walker-wheelchair hybrid that adjusts to a user's moment-by-moment power needs and encourages strength restoration.

Four hundred applied for the positions, all eager to prove Thiel's hypothesis that they'll learn more in two years in the real world than four in the classroom.

Thiel has made no secret of his opposition to higher education, calling it the next bubble and criticizing the often-crushing cost of study.

"A true bubble is when something is overvalued and intensely believed," Thiel told TechCrunch earlier this year. "Education may be the only thing people still believe in in the United States. To question education is really dangerous. It is the absolute taboo. It's like telling the world there's no Santa Claus."

He decided to offer students an alternative to the direct-to-university path.

"There is irreducible conflict between staying in college and implementing a great idea," Thiel told USA Today. "The pernicious side effect of the education bubble is assuming education [guarantees] absolute good, even with steep student fees. That is often not the case."

His experiential fellowship may prove that future Mark Zuckerbergs and Bill Gates of the world — both of whom dropped out of Harvard — don't have to be the exception when it comes to success in business.

(Photo credit: Doug Palmer/Reuters)