L024: Spend Your College Tuition on Being Mentored and Starting a Company

by Jason Calacanis

I’ve been thinking about Peter Thiel’s position on higher education a lot since my wonderful wife and I welcomed our daughter to the world about 18 months ago.

Peter’s foundation: http://jc.is/kPkxRo

In the affluence bubble of Los Angeles’ West Side -- the area that includes Brentwood, Santa Monica and Pacific Palisades -- old people with too much money have kids much later in life. At my parent groups and social activities, I’m often among the youngest fathers.  

I’m 40 years old.

Folks who have kids later in life generally have more money to spend on those children, and thus the education bubble grows.

The education bubble feels a lot like the housing bubble: it’s based on credit, it keeps growing and a lot of the folks participating don’t have the ability to pay back the money they are borrowing.

Anyway, back to the point. Preschool and primary education in this bubble is three to four times what I paid for college ($9K for Fordham University at Lincoln Center in the late 1980s-early 1990s). A year in school from ages 4 to 18 inside this insanity costs $30K to $40K a year.

People are spending $500K on their kid’s education -- before college! Insane!  

So, I was thinking of Peter paying folks to skip college while watching Westside moms stress over who to ship $500K to, when someone asked me about internships.

“We don’t do internships because the law is so fracked up in California that if you give an intern real work to do, you will get sued,” I explained.  

Not sure if you guys know this particular form of insanity, but essentially the concept of trading an opportunity to a student in exchange for some free labor is, ummm, illegal. Yes, if you want an intern you have to make sure they are not doing work you would have otherwise paid someone to do.

Wait, what?

Free labor is the exact point of interns! Why else would you waste your time mentoring someone who is gone in 10 weeks?

Free labor in exchange for education, contacts and a resume builder.

And who is the government to tell these students they can’t decide to work for free for 10 weeks? What gives the government the right to dictate these terms? Are people too stupid to protect themselves from being “taken advantage” of while they build their careers?

I’ve heard the argument that many employers use unpaid interns to do clerical work or get coffee -- the students don’t learn anything and they don’t get paid, and that’s the problem.

How is it a problem if the person opts into it? If Warren Buffett or Steve Jobs offers an internship getting them coffee, you know what, I’d sign up! Not kidding. That’s once-in-a-lifetime stuff.

These interns are not slaves or indentured servants. They can walk out at any time (and based on having some interns in the past, I’ve seen them do just that when they meet a girl and want to go to Paris). If you don’t like the terms, you can leave.

If you want to do grunt work in exchange for having Apple or NBC or GE on your resume, you should be allowed to do it. If I see a kid come in with those three companies on their resume, she has a good chance of getting a job -- I don’t care what she did there.

It’s so dumb.

Free will, people! Freedom! We live in a free country! Everything is double OPT-IN!!!

Anyway, these three thoughts:

  •     Peter buying folks out of college
  •     crazy cost of education on the Westside
  •     internships being a complete waste of time for companies

made me think parents should stop sending their kids to college and PAY for them to work next to someone really smart for a year.

What would a parent pay to have their 19-year-old sit next to one of the brilliant Twitter triumvirate: Evan Williams, Biz Stone or Jack Dorsey?

What if you could pay $25K a year for three years and have them spend one year shadowing each of these individuals? Would you pay $50K a year?

I know these three geniuses, and I would in a heartbeat!

Can you imagine the value of having the founders/creators of Blogger, Twitter and Square mentoring your kids??!

What about a brilliant writer/journalist like Om Malik, Mike Arrington, Kara Swisher, or Henry Blodget? [ Side note: Yeah, I got problems with Arrington, but I can’t deny that his prose can be compelling. Not as compelling as mine, mind you, but he’s in the top 10 of tech writers. ]

After three years of sitting next to folks at $35K a year for $100K, you give your child $50K to start a company and you’re in for $150K. That’s probably $100K less than you would spend on a private school all in.

If someone wants me to mentor this kid for $25K for nine months, I would donate the money to charity and let their kid literally sit next to me and come to meetings.

It would be better than spending money on college, right?

Maybe someone could make a website called Mentormykid.com and auction off slots for charity to the highest bidder? This wouldn’t just be for startups or Internet companies. What if your aspiring journalist, artist or filmmaker could pay for a mentorship? What would it be worth to have your kid sit next to Steven Spielberg or J.J. Abrams for a year: $100K, $250K? Oh yes, it would be.

Then rich parents would be paying money to mentor their kids, and proceeds could go to a charity to send poor kids to a mentorship. This isn’t a solution to all the education problems in the country -- or the world. No one thing solves all problems except for head shots on zombies. This is just intended as an alternative for a certain section of young folks who would do well to be mentored to be leaders and big thinkers.

Oh yeah, take the last $50K-$100K you save from not going to the Ivy League and start a company.

Anyway, just an idea I had.

all the best,