TODAY   |  December 26, 2013

Is college necessary? Many explore alternatives

A number of high school seniors and former college students are using unconventional alternatives to higher education to find their place in the job world. NBC’s Jenna Bush Hager reports.

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>>> a four-year degree and all that debt. first, this is "today" on nbc. .

>> back at 8:41. millions of high school seniors will soon make one of the biggest decision of their lives, where to go to college ? for some a degree may not be the answer. here is "today's" contributing correspondent jenna bush hager .

>> reporter: zuckerberg, branchson, gates, all brilliant millionaires and self-made success stories with something else in common, none of these overachievers graduated from college . it's an idea that david looper can get behind.

>> ideally i either want to start a company or be a part of a company that contributes real value to the world.

>> they agree.

>> if you want to learn and teach results, around results with people that are knowledgeable and can help you.

>> reporter: when it comes to getting a college degree that i both say no thanks,.

>> i'm going towards the same goals as people who are in university but i believe in taking a much more direct route .

>> reporter: a more direct route is precisely the goal of uncollege, where david and an fa are called fellow, not students.

>> i am not motivated by grades, i'm motivated building the careers to create the results i want.

>> all hand picked first class.

>> they are people committed.

>> reporter: the program is the brain child of dale stevens . it's a loosely structured gap year of sorts. for yung adults who may have the means and grades to attend a top institution but just don't want to.

>> it's a very american idea that you can be successful on your own and you can create your own education.

>> for this initial san francisco group, it's a competitive year long college alternative, comprised of networking, creative projects and traveling abroad.

>> when people talk about college , does it mean more than academics or what is your philosophy on that?

>> i think the structure changed more to reflect what actually happens in college .

>> that would be a benefit for everyone.

>> stevens is a proud college dropout .

>> do you think our college and university system in the united states is inherently flawed?

>> i think our college university system is overpriced and it's under delivered.

>> reporter: recent figures put college costs at $14,000 for under graduate tuition and board it more than doubles to 38,000 at a private institution.

>> i would have been $100,000 in debt.

>> reporter: for comparison sake, uncollege costs roughly $15,000 with the idea to find a job after just one year versus four.

>> personally, i don't want to get into debt. i don't want to be to where i find a job and if i don't like it i have to stay there to pay off my loan.

>> reporter: but so many do. for each bachelor borrower on average it's between $25-$30,000 owed after four years. but rather than give up on the four-year model some are trying to reinvent a less expensive but top tier college experience. it's called the minerva problem. former senator and u.s. school president bob kerry is minerva's executive chairman. one of the cornerstones i think of this program is you are trying to bring down the costs for students.

>> we want to produce the highest quality for low costs. our tuition costs will be $10,000.

>> reporter: the for profit program admits less than 20 students for fall. ultimately, students will live in various designated cities world wide, culturally immersed in a local landscape while taking courses in a virtual one.

>> we want to prepare you for not just the work force when you graduate but life after you graduate from college .

>> reporter: are virtual courses viable? only time will tell. minerva still needs original accreditation. they have high hopes for the university model.

>> i think we will have a much richer array of offerings than most of the universities are able to do.

>> reporter: as for uncollege the stes e success of its first class remains to be seen.

>> do you know where you want to go?

>> reporter: so far david and an fa are convinced. they are doing re-imageening as well.

>> i think there are ways to build credentials than a certificate that you went to a four-year program.

>> reporter: for "today" jenna bush -hager.

>> a lot of people are rethinking college , if you got that 4-year-old, you think what it will cost in 14 years? how will we do this?

>> for so many students, coming out with that debt the job market not what it used to be.