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Paying Tech Talents to Drop Out of College

Peter Thiel
Peter Thiel

This is the VOA Special English Technology Report.

What do Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Larry Ellison have in common? They all made billions of dollars in technology. And they all left college. Now, a wealthy businessman is paying other technologically talented young people to follow that same path.

Peter Thiel is paying them to drop out or at least to "stop out" of higher education temporarily to work on their interests. He and his Thiel Foundation just announced the first group of what they call 20 Under 20 Thiel Fellows.

PETER THIEL: "We selected people on the basis of a combination of having demonstrated intense passion about science and technology and then having the drive to try to carry it forward in the years ahead."

There are twenty-four people to be exact, because a couple of projects involve more than one person.

One of the youngest is Laura Deming. At twelve she began researching ways to extend human life. Now, at seventeen, she has already graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Eighteen-year-old John Marbach just finished high school. He hopes to use Web tools to bring classrooms into the digital age. He plans to attend one semester of college before he begins his fellowship.

Each of the fellows will receive one hundred thousand dollars over two years to continue their research. They will also receive help from experts.

Peter Thiel has a lot of experience with technology start-up businesses. He helped create the electronic payment system PayPal. He was also one of the first investors in Facebook.

He himself is a graduate of Stanford University and Stanford Law School in California. But Mr. Thiel says college has changed.

PETER THIEL: "It's gotten a lot more expensive than when I attended school a quarter of a century ago. And so, if you look at how much college costs have gone up, you now have people graduating with a quarter million dollars worth of debt and they end up having to spend years or decades paying the debt off."

The Obama administration is pushing college. It says over the next ten years, nearly half of all new jobs will require more than a high school education. But Peter Thiel says many young people choose college for the wrong reasons.

PETER THIEL: "What I ended up doing, and what I think is still true of most of my peers and is true of most people today -- was simply to default into it. Talented, high school, what do you do? You go to college. Good in college, what do you do? You go to law school. Where education and higher education becomes almost this way for not thinking and avoiding thinking about what you’re going to do with your life."

Mr. Thiel says the young people he is investing in are clear about what they want to do. At the very least, he says, they will gain experience to take back to school if that is what they decide to do.

More than four hundred people from twenty countries applied to the program. Later this year the Thiel Foundation plans to begin taking applications for the next group of fellows under the age of twenty.

And that's the VOA Special English Technology Report, written by June Simms. Tell us what you think at or on Facebook and Twitter at VOA Learning English. I'm Steve Ember.