The Tesla billionaire Elon Musk thinks people “don’t need college to learn stuff” and says jobs at his companies should not require a degree.
“Did Shakespeare go to college?” he asked. “Probably not.”
At the Satellite 2020 conference in Washington DC on Monday, an audience member told Musk she noticed that many job postings at his company SpaceX require a bachelor’s degree and say a master’s degree is preferred – despite Musk having been vocal about not requiring a college degree for jobs at his companies.
“With more jobs asking for higher levels of degrees,” the audience member said, “scholarships are not changing amounts and it’s getting harder and harder every year to pay tuition, even with using scholarships. How can college and industries make it easier to afford college?”
Musk, whose net worth is estimated at $34bn, responded by saying that college was unnecessary because “you can learn anything you want for free”.
The main value of college, he said, is to be found in proving discipline by completing “annoying homework assignments” and in hanging around with people of the same age before entering the workforce.
“I think college is basically for fun and to prove that you can do your chores, but they’re not for learning,” Musk said.
He also said he hopes to make sure his electric car company Tesla does not have university requirements for jobs, “because that’s absurd”. The main requirement for employment at his companies, he said, is “exceptional ability”.
“I don’t consider going to college evidence of exceptional ability,” Musk said. “In fact, ideally you dropped out.”
Musk listed some “smart guys” who dropped out of college: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Larry Ellison. He also made his reference to Shakespeare, in fact the son of a glover who received a grammar school education but no more.
When it comes to college dropouts, the three tech moguls cited by Musk are the exception not the rule. In the US, on average, a college degree brings $30,000 more in salary each year than a high school education.
Musk in fact has two bachelor’s degrees, having attended Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, and the University of Pennsylvania, where he graduated from the Wharton School – Donald Trump’s alma mater – in 1997.
He did manage to drop out of his PhD program at Stanford, after two days.