CNN Editor’s note: Dale J. Stephens is a 19-year-old entrepreneur leading UnCollege, a social movement supporting self-directed higher education and building RadMatter, a platform to demonstrate talent. He is among the first recipients of the Thiel Fellowship, an initiative by venture capitalist and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel that gives 20 entrepreneurs under 20 years old $100,000 to fund their projects.
I have been awarded a golden ticket to the heart of Silicon Valley: the Thiel Fellowship. The catch? For two years, I cannot be enrolled as a full-time student at an academic institution. For me, that’s not an issue; I believe higher education is broken.
I left college two months ago because it rewards conformity rather than independence, competition rather than collaboration, regurgitation rather than learning and theory rather than application. Our creativity, innovation and curiosity are schooled out of us.
Failure is punished instead of seen as a learning opportunity. We think of college as a stepping-stone to success rather than a means to gain knowledge. College fails to empower us with the skills necessary to become productive members of today’s global entrepreneurial economy.
College is expensive. The College Board Policy Center found that the cost of public university tuition is about 3.6 times higher today than it was 30 years ago, adjusted for inflation. In the book “Academically Adrift,” sociology professors Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa say that 36% of college graduates showed no improvement in critical thinking, complex reasoning or writing after four years of college. Student loan debt in the United States, unforgivable in the case of bankruptcy, outpaced credit card debt in 2010 and will top $1 trillion in 2011.