The Corner

Politics & Policy

Do Universities Kindle Entrepreneurship?

University officials like to talk about how they help to educate and inspire new entrepreneurs (at least to some people, anyway; they’d never bring that up in front of the social-justice crowd), but is it more than just talk? In today’s Martin Center article, Zak Slayback argues that it isn’t.

He writes: “Universities don’t specialize in entrepreneurship, even if they create majors and centers devoted to it. In the best cases, they work as honeypots where entrepreneurship is a function of smart people being near other smart people. Universities specialize in credentialing, first and foremost. Students enroll primarily to get credentials, not to learn skills that make them entrepreneurs. That difference should be no surprise to anybody steeped in the economics of higher education — both Bryan Caplan in The Case Against Education and Richard Vedder in Restoring the Promise show that most of the gains from education come from signaling and that skills taught in school are rarely retained.”

If someone really wants to become an entrepreneur, it’s much better to actually do it than to get a college degree that involves hearing and reading about, along with lots of other stuff.

One person who has famously helped lots of budding entrepreneurs do what they say they want to do is Peter Thiel. For ten years, Thiel has been giving money to young people who aspire to be entrepreneurs, but not for college programs. Many education insiders have scoffed at Thiel, but Slayback shows that his approach has had good results.

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.


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