Yet if Wadhwa is right the student debt problem will take care of itself—at least as it relates to the next generation and those that follow. Online courses will proliferate to such a degree that acquiring knowledge will become totally free. There will still be a cost associated with getting a formal degree. But most universities, he says, “will be in the accreditation business.” They will monitor and sanction coursework; teachers will become mentors and guides, not deliver lectures and administer tests. This model has the potential to dramatically cut the cost of an education and virtually eliminate the need to borrow for one, he says.

This isn’t an argument that Thiel was ready to entertain. His focus is on skipping college altogether unless you can get into a top-tier school and are certain to enter a highly paid field. He believes we are experiencing a “psycho-social” bubble in higher education. Everyone believes they have to have a college degree and so they will borrow and pay any amount to get one from any school.