Working where I do is giving me a unique look at higher education in this country. I see where the meme has morphed from 'we must provide worthy underprivileged kids with a chance to go to college' to 'all kids must go to college' with a myth that this path is the only way to be happy and increase future earnings. The federal government and organizations like the Lumina Foundation have been perpetuating this morphed meme and have been supporting it financially--allowing the cost of education to go up astronomically in the past twenty years.
Aside from the fact that there are many paths to happiness and a good living, the perpetuation of this meme has placed students into situations for which they are unsuited and as a corollary, is starting to create a dearth of skilled labor.
I still think of a conference I was attending where a representative from the Lumina Foundation was expounding on the idea that more students must go to and graduate from college. An older man stood up and asked something along the lines of 'In your conversations regarding the value of a college education, have you included ANYONE who hasn't attended college?' Of course the answer was no.
This meme is causing what Glenn Reynolds and others are calling the 'Higher Education Bubble'. You have students graduating from college with unreasonable expectations of salaries, who are still functionally illiterate because colleges and universities are being pressured into graduating them, and who are saddled with incredible amounts of student loan debt with absolutely no way to pay it. High school kids who should be learning how to become mechanics, electricians, plumbers, welders, or other skillsets are instead being frustrated by a system that cannot live up to what their career guidance counselors, advisers, and the media have been telling them.
1 year ago