The idea of higher education many consider so reasonable that they hardly find occasion to doubt it. Ever since American troops marched home from World War Two and onto college campuses across the U.S. (coaxed thither by the Montgomery G.I. Bill) Americans have come to esteem postsecondary education as the sine qua non of middle-class status, comfort, and security.
That rosily optimistic view has since changed -- or at least has been thrown into crisis -- as a result of surging tuition rates, ballooning student-loan debt, and shrinking grants and scholarships. Add these factors to a still sluggish economy, in which job growth at all salary and skill levels doesn't exactly conjure visions of bright career futures, and you have a completely re-jiggered calculus when it comes to answering the question, "Should I take out loans for college or not?"
As founder of The University of the People Shai Reshef points out in a May 3, 2011 blog entry on The Huffington Post, PayPal cofounder and venture capitalist Peter Thiel is banking on more and more Americans' answering this question in the negative.
Deeply critical of the current state of the higher-education industry, which to him bears all the hallmarks of a financial bubble in the making, Thiel has created a "20 Under 20 Program," which pays young adults to skip college and to start businesses instead, with Thiel's program putting up the seed money.
As Reshef reports, Thiel aims to dispel the higher-education mystique that has come to surround the industry since the 1940s. With his "20 Under 20 Program" he wishes to demonstrate that there exist other viable career paths beside those which lie through the university system.
Indeed, Thiel wants to prove that the entrepreneurial path is not only as viable, but is in fact preferable, because it doesn't leave young adults saddled with onerous debt while facing doubtful career prospects.
For his part, Reshef appears to reject Thiel's thesis, regarding it as throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Reshef proposes instead a far more modest solution to modern students' college-bubble woes: bringing the cost of higher-education under control by whichever means prove most effective. These may include greater state and federal subsidies, which in the present climate of austerity and budget-slashing look difficult to come by, or technological ways of boosting education-delivery efficacy while keeping down the cost of doing so.
Whether you favor Thiel's proposed path or Reshef's, one thing stands clear: Times are topsy-turvy in these heady days of student-loan financial-bubble inflation; whatever you can do to protect yourself from this bubble's bursting is the wisest course of action.