Glenn Reynolds had a great piece on the bursting of the Higher Education bubble in the Washington Examiner (found here). He points out that the reason that higher education tuition has gone up so much, especially in the past few years, is because it COULD. Institutions of higher learning could increase their tuition by several percentage points annually because students could just borrow more (and go further into debt).
I think that part of the reason that people are/were willing to put up with these increases is because of the perceived value for their dollar. With the media and organizations such as Lumina Foundation beating the higher education drum and combining that beat with the POTENTIAL of greater earnings with a college degree, the American public has been lead down the primrose path of believing that the path to success can only be found when you've passed through the venerable gates of higher education. As Reynolds notes (rightly IMO), "...a college degree is an expensive way to get an entry-level credential."
As soon as people realize that college is not necessary, that elite universities are really not that much better than the one down the street, and that going into extreme debt for a degree that will avail you, in some cases, nothing in the marketplace then the bubble will burst and colleges and universities will have to look at their processes and expenditures a bit more closely. I'm betting once that happens that professorial arguments of 'professional development' and that 'important' conference in Bangladesh just won't fly.
6 days ago