Our system places too much emphasis on college education, but perhaps not in the way people may think.
A college/ university education is something we pay for. As such, it is supposed to be purposeful. A great many people are taking degrees to make more money when more and more people are flunking out of the programs, and ending up with a lot of needless debt. 80K is a lot of money to spend on 'finding yourself'.
College and university are important. We should be doing more to lead teens through the self definition process so that they will have an effective plan to succeed in life. This may be as a sociologist, biologist, physicist, etc, or as an electrician, plumber, early childhood educator, etc. But to go into these programs without a plan, and without the maturity to take it seriously (a growing problem) leads you to take a degree in feminist dance theory with no practical outcomes, leaving the person to pay off student loans on a coffee shop salary.
Not a good setup.
If we supported the decision process more realistically, with individual considerations for potential, aptitude, etc, the adult outcomes would skyrocket across the board.
Our society places too much importance on a college education. This is so because no one seems to be realizing that the trades do not require college. No one is being encouraged to go into the trades. We will have an overpopulation of people who can think, read, write, and count, and no one who can work with their hands.
There are so many thousands of schools and courses in this country, it's hard to see the larger picture of what people are doing with the degrees they earn. College has always been a place to experience the world of early adulthood and do some crazy things, but too many kids aren't actually taking an education away from it that they can get a job with. Financial aid should be given out based on need for jobs in specific degrees, and not to anyone looking for a drunken good time getting a liberal arts degree that isn't worth the paper it's printed on.
I am not saying that college is not important. Far from it. But coming from a family of educators (both of my parents are teachers with master's degrees in education and many years in the classroom), I have seen that college is not the best path for everyone. There are many that would much better benefit from programs that would get them on a path to a successful career in a trade and identifying that early on instead of instilling in them the idea that college is the only way to make it in the world.
I do not believe our society has placed too much importance on a college education. Having attended college for three years and dropping out before completing my degree I can easily say I learned a lot while I was in college that I am glad I didn't miss out on. Going to college has done nothing for me career wise, but the sheer amount of knowledge has been helpful overall. Therefore, I still think higher education is very important.
Studies continually show that a college education means more money over a lifetime. More well-rounded learners adapt better to changes in the real world. A college education also shows that someone is willing to work hard for an end goal, something that employers look for in job candidates. No one wants to do menial work their entire life. Even a 2-year degree at a community college helps people get ahead. Knowledge is power, not ignorance is bliss.
The idea that someone could get a lasting career in industry with barely a high school diploma is almost non-existent. With the removal of most industrial careers moved overseas, employers have switched to the data sectors. Analyzing and processing data has replaced the operation and maintenance of machinery. The steel press has been replaced with a keyboard. College prepares you with not just basic technological skills, but also with a specialized field of intention.