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Elon Musk: Graduating from a college 'not needed,' 'they're not for learning'

Musk, the CEO of SpaceX, also said he's 'going to be dead' before people get to Mars 'based on past trends'

Updated: May 26, 2020 - 6:17pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, said that graduating from college is "not needed" and that colleges and universities are "not for learning."

"You don't need college to learn stuff," Musk said at the Satellite 2020 conference in Washington on Monday. "Everything is available basically for free. You can learn anything you want for free. It is not a question of learning."

Colleges do have a value, Musk acknowledged, as proving grounds for intellectual grit and determination to test whether somebody can "work hard at something, including a bunch of annoying homework assignments ... and kind of soldier through and get it done."

At the same time, it's probably worthwhile "to hang around with a bunch of people your own age for a while, instead of going right into the workforce," Musk said. "So I think colleges are basically for fun and to prove you can do your chores, but they're not for learning."

The billionaire, who gradated from the University of Pennsylvania, said that Tesla recruiting information and job postings do not prioritize a college degree as a prerequisite "because that's absurd."

"But there is," he explained, "a requirement of evidence of exceptional ability. If you try to do something exceptional, it must have evidence of exceptional ability. I don't consider going to college evidence of exceptional ability. In fact, ideally, you dropped out and did something." 

Musk, who dropped out of a doctoral program at Stanford University in 1995, listed several successful figures who did not finish college.

"Gates is a pretty smart guy," said Musk, referring to Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. "He dropped out. Jobs was pretty smart. He dropped out, Larry Ellison — smart guy. He dropped out, like, obviously not needed. So did Shakespeare even go to college? Probably not." 

Musk told the audience that he wants to see humans go to Mars before he dies but doubts it will happen.

"If it's taking us 18 years just to get ready to be the first people to orbit, we better improve our rate of innovation or, based on past trends, I am definitely going to be dead before Mars," he said. "So we've got to improve our pace of innovation a lot."