In a recession, do 4-year colleges make sense?

Rebecca Bradley
Rebecca Bradley
CBS News

Republicans and Democrats in Congress on Wednesday struck a deal to keep the interest rate on government-subsidized student loans at 3.4 percent.

Millions rely on those loans to pay for college, but a growing number of high school graduates have decided that it makes more sense to skip college altogether.

In central Pennsylvania, the Mechanicsburg High School class of 2012 is thinking about the future. Rebecca Bradley planned to go to college to become a teacher.

"Just in Pennsylvania for state schools, a lot of them were $20,000 to $23,000. I'm doing the math to myself like how would I pay for this on a teacher salary. I have no idea how any of this would work," Bradley said.

So Bradley abandoned her dream of a college degree and enrolled in beauty school.

"There are always gonna be ladies who want to get their highlights and perms," Bradley said. "It's not like my job can be shipped to India."

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The number of high school graduates choosing technical schools over state colleges grew by two million between 2006 and 2010. The high cost of college tuition was a driving force. Since 2006, tuition jumped from an average of $16,000 to nearly $20,000.

Sage Hilsinger was also planning to go to college. Now she is working three part-time jobs to pay for vocational school. She wants to be a medical imaging technician. Starting salary is $40,000.

"I figured like of all of the things that we need, medical field, the medical field is never going away. There's people are always going to need help," Hilsinger said.

According to a Rutgers University study, almost half of college grads since 2006 have not found a full-time job; about 48 percent carry student debt of at least $10,000.

Rebecca Bradley says she'll owe $20,000 for her one year of Beauty School, one-fourth the cost of a state university education.

"I'm confident I'll be employed," Bradley said. I think I'll be better off in the end."

A lesson of the great recession for many graduates is job security may be worth more than spending four years in college.

  • Michelle Miller
    Michelle Miller

    Michelle Miller is the co-host of "CBS This Morning: Saturday." As an award-winning correspondent based in New York, she has reported for all CBS News broadcasts and platforms. She joined CBS News in 2004.