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What do Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Larry Ellison have in common? They all made billions of dollars in technology. And they all left college. Now, a wealthy businessman is paying other technologically talented young people to follow that same path. Peter Thiel is paying them to drop out or at least to "stop out" of higher education temporarily to work on their interests. He and his Thiel Foundation have announced the first group of what they call 20 Under 20 Thiel Fellows. He says: "We selected people on the basis of a combination of having demonstrated intense passion about science and technology and then having the drive to try to carry it forward in the years ahead." There are twenty-four people to be exact, because a couple of projects involve more than one person. One of the youngest is Laura Deming. At twelve she began researching ways to extend human life. Now, at seventeen, she has already graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Eighteen-year-old John Marbach just finished high school. He hopes to use Web tools to bring classrooms into the digital age. He plans to attend one semester of college before he begins his fellowship. Each of the fellows will receive one hundred thousand dollars over two years to continue their research. They will also receive help from experts. Peter Thiel has a lot of experience with technology start-up businesses. He helped create the electronic payment system PayPal. He was also one of the first investors in Facebook. He himself is a graduate of Stanford University and Stanford Law School in California. But Mr. Thiel says college has gotten a lot more expensive than when he attended school twenty-five years ago. "You now have people graduating with a quarter million dollars worth of debt and they end up having to spend years or decades paying the debt off." The Obama administration is pushing college. It says over the next ten years, nearly half of all new jobs will require more than a high school education. But Peter Thiel says many young people choose college for the wrong reasons. "Talented, high school, what do you do? You go to college. Good in college, what do you do? You go to law school ... Higher education becomes almost this way for not thinking and avoiding thinking about what you're going to do with your life." He says the young people he is investing in will, at the very least, gain experience to take back to school if that is what they decide to do. For VOA Special English, I'm Alex Villarreal.
(Adapted from a radio program broadcast 30May2011)
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