Some of the greatest innovations in our country's history have come from entrepreneurs who did not fear failure. They sought the American dream by creating businesses from scratch and working tirelessly towards their vision instead of sitting in lecture halls. From Andrew Carnegie and Henry Ford to Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, many of our greatest entrepreneurs never graduated from college. Will my generation be able to produce a similar number of successful new businesses? What long term effects will the entitlement mentality have on today's bumper bowling generation? Is our system of education pouring water on the flames of entrepreneurship? Are we pushing young potential innovators into a system that will crowd out their instinctive abilities to invent new products and services?
Imagine a young entrepreneur who recently graduated high school with an idea to improve the internet. Typically, this ambitious student has been told by peers and teachers, "Wait until you graduate college, then you can pursue your dreams." However, this future college graduate will have an average of $50,000 dollars of student loan debt to pay off. Instead of trying to create a new business, this young man or woman will be worrying about getting a job to pay off their student loans. The weight of these student loans can slowly drag down a young entrepreneur's vision to create a new business and take new risks in the marketplace.
Some forward looking pioneers of a new paradigm are already starting to reshape the path of some of our nation's best and brightest entrepreneurs. One such program, the Thiel Fellowship, was founded by Peter Thiel who started several companies including PayPal. Thiel also provided important venture capital to a company we all know as Facebook. The Thiel Fellowship program annually selects 20 of the top young entrepreneurs in the world and gives them each $100,000 over two years to pursue their dreams. Instead of going to college, these young innovators are busy creating more cost effective solar panels, turning cooking grease into fuel, making nuclear fusion more readily available, and unlocking secrets to slow the aging process. The mission of the Thiel Fellowship program is based on the belief, "Some ideas are so good they just can't wait." By empowering and enabling young entrepreneurs from across the world to pursue their dreams, these Thiel Fellows are on the cutting edge of innovation and creating new paradigms in our educational system.
Although college is the right decision for some young people, it is not the catch all solution. Instead, we should encourage young people to take risks while they are still idealistic and have the spirit of innovation alive within them. We need to foster a new generation of innovators, and we must support young people who make the bold decision to skip college in their quest to make the world a better place. Every person has ideas, but we need young entrepreneurs to turn those ideas into reality.
You don't need a degree to start a successful business. It's time to accept that college can put shackles on some of our best and brightest. College was once considered a stepping stone but now has become a stumbling block for countless innovators of tomorrow. Let's accept the fact that the next Apple, Microsoft and Facebook won't be inspired by reading textbooks. Together, we can embrace the future and give the next Ford, Jobs, Gates, and Zuckerberg the freedom necessary to succeed.