Billionaire Facebook investor Peter Thiel, recently launched the Thiel Fellowship–a new program that will support 20 techy under 20-years-old with entrepreneurs grants of up to $100,000 each.

“Our world needs more breakthrough technologies,” said Thiel. “From Facebook to SpaceX to Halcyon Molecular, some of the world’s most transformational technologies were created by people who stopped out of school, because they had ideas that couldn’t wait until graduation. This fellowship will encourage the most brilliant and promising young people not to wait on their ideas, either. The Thiel Fellows will change the world and call it a senior thesis.”

The Thiel Foundation will award 20 young people with cash grants of $100,000 to further their unique scientific and technical ideas, and will also give them the opportunity to work closely with Thiel’s network of tech entrepreneurs and philanthropists who will mentor and assist them regarding creating new technologies, employment opportunities, support, and training.

Along with the many supporters of this fellowship program, come a slew of critics who do not agree with Thiel’s approach arguing that it devalues a college education.

Jacob Weisberg from Slate Magazine says the fellowship is a nasty idea. “Peter Thiel is just trying to inflate his enormous ego by getting young people to emulate him. A country where every kid dreams of being the next Mark Zuckerberg (founder of Facebook) doesn’t need more entrepreneurs. Thiel’s just trying to turn the tech startup into a White boy’s version of the NBA, diverting young people from the love of knowledge to the love of money.”

The criticisms start there and some are even more harsh, but most people who have made their opinions public are in support of the grant.

“Some young people no doubt go to school for the love of knowledge,” said Nick Saint from the business news web site Business Insider, “Most go for other reasons (like) to prepare for a profession, or to impress employers, or because college is where the parties are. Nobody is denying that college can be very intellectually rewarding for people, who are cut out for it. But, if Thiel’s goal is to help bright, motivated, young people who want to start companies instead, that sounds like a pretty great idea to us,” said Saint.

“There is absolutely no experience that matches the real world, so if you have the passion and drive and want to work on a great idea, you should just do it,” said Scott Banister, who left the University of Illinois before receiving his degree and founded ListBot, the largest application service provider for business e-mail, and IronPort, the anti-spam company Cisco acquired for $830 million.

Many people have accused Thiel of bribing students to drop out of school, but I don’t agree that is what is happening at all. He is simply recognizing the truth which is: College isn’t for everyone.

And, like Saint said, most students aren’t going to college for the love of knowledge and that alone.
Most of us went, put in the man hours, endured the blood, sweat, and tears, just for a piece of paper that says we did it. So that we can get a job that pays us well, and pays our bosses a hell of a lot more. Oh and don’t forget the mountain of debt most of us will accumulate as well.

I can’t see how anyone could fault Thiel for doing such a good thing. With the unemployment rate as high as it is currently, college tuition increasing, and financial aid opportunities dwindling, an opportunity for you to go into business for yourself doing something you are truly passionate about is a true gift.

I am not devaluing a college education, and I don’t believe Thiel is either, there is just common realization that in today’s economy, a college degree isn’t the only road to success, and Thiel is giving 20 lucky individuals the opportunity to explore that.

To fill out an application for the fellowship or to get more information on the Thiel Foundation, visit www.thielfoundation.org.