Elon Musk says college is ‘for fun,’ not for learning, echoing Thiel

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Tesla CEO Elon Musk poses on the red carpet as he arrives for the 43rd “Golden Steering Wheel” awards on November 12, 2019 in Berlin.

Tobias Schwarz | AFP via Getty Images

In 2011, PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel began paying college kids to drop out of school to develop a start-up. Elon Musk, who led the payments company with Thiel before becoming CEO of Tesla and creating SpaceX, has a similar view of higher education.

During his keynote at the Satellite 2020 conference in Washington, D.C., on Monday, an audience member asked Musk about the necessity of college education.

“You don’t need college to learn stuff,” he said. The value is “seeing whether somebody can work hard at something.”

He added that “colleges are basically for fun and to prove you do your chores, but they’re not for learning.”

It sounds a lot like the front page of the website for the Thiel Fellowship program, which gives anyone 22 or younger the ability to apply for a two-year $100,000 grant “to build new things instead of sitting in a classroom.” College students have to drop out to join. 

Thiel, a vocal supporter of Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign, has blamed Silicon Valley’s liberalism on higher education, telling podcaster Dave Rubin in 2018 that “one of the downsides of too much education is that you get the most brainwashed.”

Musk graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, and Thiel received his undergraduate and law degrees from Stanford.  

“Did Shakespeare even go to college?” Musk asked, rhetorically, at Monday’s event. “Probably not.”

Despite Musk’s skepticism, many of the open job listings at SpaceX list a bachelor’s degree or higher education as a basic requirement.

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