No, this isn’t the usual elitist argument–some people (and we know who they are) aren’t smart enough to get in. Dave Winer has an interesting post in which he responds to Silicon Valley critics of college education (boldface mine):
Nowadays Silicon Valley says that college education is a waste. This idea has spread to academia too. They’re trying to make the experience more relevant to entrepreneurs and their investors. I’ve heard it said at Harvard that they want to participate in the success of the next Gates and Zuckerberg, both Harvard dropouts. I find this disturbing. I want them to educate better citizens, not richer business people. If they happen to be better citizens and rich, all the better. But first comes the person, not the bank account…
When you look at the problems our democracy has, probably the biggest one is the “low information voter.” The ignorant electorate that says they want government out of our lives, but keep your hands off Medicare and Social Security, for example. We should strive not to create better billionaires, we should set our sights higher — to create better voters.
I agree with Winer about the general utility of a college education (and college should be not simply a technical training school). But some people shouldn’t go to college–or at least, straight away. Consider the rising baseball talent, who decides to spend time in the majors, or the talented actor who goes to Hollywood. There are some people, talented programmers and designers included, who should delay (or even drop-out of) college, because they can afford to do so. If there is a good opportunity to try something, go after it. But the key point, one that college-bashers don’t mention, is that many people aren’t that talented (yet). Someone who is a prize-winning programmer in high-school has opportunities and fall-back options most people don’t have.
And as the economy becomes tighter and tighter, especially for young people, those fall-back options become increasingly scarce. That’s what Thiel et alia don’t seem to get. There is a significant cost of failure in many cases, if you skip or don’t complete college, that elite programmers or other young people with marketable skills will not experience. That’s what the debate should focus on.