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Will PayPal Billionaire Peter Thiel's Team of College Dropouts Change Learning?

Meet Thiel's inaugural class of super-elite "20 Under 20" fellowship recipients.

In April, Peter Thiel, one of the co-founders of PayPal and the first major investor in Facebook, announced "20 Under 20," his experiment that will pay students from some of the nation's most elite colleges $100,000 each to drop out and start companies. Thiel's views on college degrees are pretty controversial—he believes they're unnecessary for talented, entrepreneurially-minded students. After sifting through 400 applications, Thiel announced his inaugural class of fellowship recipients and their projects on Wednesday.

Most of the 20 proposed projects tackle a range of fields you'd expect—biotech, information technology, economics and finance, energy, robotics, and space—but three tackle education and two fall in the category of career development. For example, 19-year-old fellow Dale Stephens, the head of UnCollege, "a social movement that applies the methods of unschooling—the self-directed brand of homeschooling with which he was raised—to the realm of higher education" plans to use his fellowship to create Radmatter, a platform that will "revolutionize how we develop and demonstrate talent in the twenty-first century."

Two other fellows, Nick Cammarata and David Merfield, are working as a team on a project that sounds similar to what Khan Academy founder Sal Khan envisions. Their project, OPEN, "aims to flip the industrial-scale classroom experience" by letting teachers "create and share online lessons designed to be viewed at home by their own students, leaving class time free for more engaging activities."

The fellows have two years to develop their ideas into businesses or revolutionary technologies. If they're successful, one question that's sure to linger is, given the caliber of applicants—they hail from MIT, Harvard, Yale, and Stanford—would they end up being successful, and maybe more well-rounded, if they stayed in school and got their degrees? Thiel only chose fellows who are already the cream of the crop—people like Sujay Tyle, who is one of the youngest students at Harvard and was already interning at DuPont when he was a teenager. Tyle's probably going to make it big whether he's a Thiel fellow or not.

Indeed, for someone who likes to see himself as an outsider, Thiel's picked students who are inside an extremely elite world and have a whole host of opportunities and resources at their disposal. Why not try to find budding entrepreneurs to support who don't already have everything going for them?

photo (cc) via Flickr user TechCrunch50-2008

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