Let’s take apart some other aspects of his argument. Thiel also argues the college students are incurring so much debt to gain their degrees that paying off the debt is a crippling burden that takes a huge chunk out of lifetime earnings. He states that college can cost as much as $250,0000, implying that the amount is the debt load all students must bear. But, according to the Project on Student Debt, the average college debt for the class of 2010 was $25,000. That’s nothing to sneeze at, but it’s hardly a crippling burden. To put that into perspective, the average amount financed for a new car purchased is $26,000 according to Experian Automotive statistics as reported by Bankrate.com. Even more important — and something conveniently not discussed by Thiel — the average earning power of college graduates has climbed steadily while the average earning power of those without college degrees has dropped precipitously. There is a lifetime of earnings to account for. University of Toronto‘s Martin Prosperity Institute calculated that, on average, bachelor’s degree holders earn $17,037 more per year than high school diploma holders.
So, while you might get lucky with that startup, the law of averages says that if you don’t go to college, you’ll probably end up significantly poorer. What was fascinating to me is that some of the young entrepreneurs Thiel bankrolled clearly benefited from partial college educations. It’s hard to imagine that the founder of the biofuels startup who was a Harvard pre-med before taking a Thiel Fellowship would have gained access to the resources he needed or been exposed to the mentorship of professors and the institutional creativity had he chosen not to go to college at all.