The Economics of Dropping Out

By Olivia Moore. Stanford University. 

Besides their incredible success, some of the most famous names in the technology world today—Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Richard Branson—have one thing in common: none of them finished college.

Though dropping out of school is traditionally stigmatized, the unique culture of Silicon Valley seems to inspire the opposite reaction. In an article in The New York Times titled “Drop Out, Start Up,” Claire Miller noted that in Silicon Valley, “being a dropout is a badge of honor” (Miller). Stanford has its own list of notable dropouts, including Aaron Swartz, a programmer who helped develop RSS and Reddit, and Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who dropped out of the computer science Ph.D. program to found Google.

The dropout culture has been institutionalized by the Thiel Fellowship, a program founded by entrepreneur Peter Thiel, a Stanford alumnus, that awards students $100,000 if they agree to drop out of college for two years and pursue a project of interest. Thiel has publicly stated his doubts about the value of a college education, and the Thiel Fellowship website emphasizes that fellows gain “guidance and business connections that can’t be replicated in any classroom” (Thiel Fellowship).

When considering whether or not to drop out, many students consider not only the costs of college that are explicit and easy to measure, but also those that are less obvious. The concept of opportunity cost becomes crucial in most decisions to drop out, as students measure the value of the other things they could be doing with the time and resources that they devote to college.

Read the full paper here.