Would you drop out of Harvard if someone paid you $100,000?
Yes, is what Sujay Tyle decided as he dropped out of his third year at Harvard to become a Thiel Fellow under the wing of controversial billionaire VC Peter Thiel.
Thiel began his “20 Under 20” fellowship program, which gives 20 students under the age of 20 $100,000 each to pursue an innovative idea for two years full-time, in 2010 as a response to soaring college costs.
“We have a bubble in education like we had a bubble in housing in the last decade,” said Thiel in a May 20 interview on “60 Minutes.” “Everyone believed you had to have a house and they’d pay whatever it took; today, everybody believes that we need to go to college and people will pay whatever it takes.”
In the interview, Thiel compares college administrators at for-profit and “less good colleges” to “subprime mortgage lenders,” arguing that students who attend them are worse off after graduating than before.
Tyle, who was only 18 when he left Harvard to continue building his social gaming company, Scopely, has already received $10 million in outside funding.
“I think that if I am fortunate enough to be successful, returning back to school for a year and a half to get my bachelor’s degree will impede my … future career,” Tyle said on the CBS show.
One of Thiel’s most outspoken critics is Vivek Wadhwa, an entrepreneur and professor at Stanford and Duke universities, who said the fellows will later regret their decision.
“If you don’t even have a bachelor’s degree, if you don’t even have basic education, you’re beyond hope,” Wadhwa said in a televised debate with Thiel.
“Ideas are a dime a dozen,” Wadhwa told CBS. “What makes you successful is being able to take that idea and turn it into an invention, and then turn that into a company. Those skills you only gain through education.” Education, the Indian American academic later noted, that includes developing important social skills.
However, Thiel’s fellowship does provide at least one class in handshaking, and the fellows all live together in a shared housing situation that is supposed to emulate Silicon Valley startup culture, according to the fellowship Web site.
Some fellows also pointed out that they will always have the option of going back to school in the future to complete their degrees.