A basic level of education is key to success in a first world country like the United States. By basic, I mean the ability to read, to do mathematics that would allow you to maintain your finances and do business, writing, basic scientific reasoning, government, basic economics, basic statistics, and effective use of a computer. Any more than that and you start diving into the either "nice to have" or esoteric realms.
The United States has plenty of educational opportunities, but it has two main issues, pushing curriculum that's horrifically uninteresting or useless, and lack of choice on the K-12 side.
The higher education system in the United States is one of the more broken parts of it. As much as I strongly support the idea of having somewhat accessible access to it, it has effectively turned into a machine that turns well intentioned high school graduates into far left debt slaves and leaves people in what I would say is a worse place than they would have been if they either delayed going until they could pay for it without a predatory loan or completely bypassed it.
What Is Wrong?
Supply and Demand
One of the simpler explanations of why college in America is so expensive is that with all the government assistance provided to prospective students, there's a much higher demand for schooling than is available. With that, the supply stays relatively constant (which is interesting since I would expect online college to start being pushed further than it is) and this drives the cost up. With the cost rising, the government provides more subsidies to make it more "affordable" to these prospective students. This keeps the demand high, which restarts the cycle.
If less people are encouraged to attend college (which is better for a large proportion of people since college is extremely overrated) and the price is allowed to stabilize to where the demand meets supply, then the people who are more likely to benefit from attending college will go.
Government Secured Loans
The loans are one of the more nefarious parts of this entire system. The United States will grant a government sponsored loan to most students if they cannot afford it directly after any grants and scholarships are applied. These loans are given without any consideration of what degree or program is pursued, whether the student is likely to pay back the loan, and cannot be defaulted on (in the vast majority of cases). This leaves many people in a position where they are tens to hundreds of thousands in debt and without any real method of servicing that debt.
Since this is an obvious problem, there are some rather obviously bad "solutions" to the problem. These solutions usually range from doing nothing, which is bad; forgiving everyone's student loans and using the government's funds to cover that, which is not fair to those who paid their loans or didn't take a loan at all; and/or making college free for all, which again, is not fair to those who wish to not participate in higher education. These so-called solutions should be not considered at all.
Going forward, I propose a system where student loans are privatized to banks, where they look at all aspects of granting any loan with regards to risk of their investments, and allow them to deny applicants that are likely to default. Anyone with loans prior to this that were unable to pay their agreed upon loan terms for more than 15 years shall have their interest rates set to zero, but still required to pay back the loan that the taxpayers were forced to grant them.
Tuition is not cheap. It is completely unreasonable to require students to take courses not in their chosen field of study that has no merit to the purpose of learning the skills required for the field they wish to go into. If a student enters college for a physics degree, don't require them to take an art history class and have to take on the heavy cost (time and money) of that. It's that simple.
One Size Fits All
Not everyone enters college with the same level of understanding of the subject they are taking. Some people are experts, some people are amateurs, and others have absolutely no knowledge of the field at all. Making all three of these groups start at the same place is unreasonable and further, some students progress at different paces. It also stands to reason that some fields have requirements that have no interest or application to some people, so making someone who's not interested in a class take that class may sometimes be inappropriate.
It is said that college is the best investment that one can make in their life. This is very hard to believe when you observe the levels of debt that exists for it that people are completely stuck with. If one is taking a loan for school, then cannot pay for it with the credentials that person receives, this is a terrible investment.
This is compounded with the sole fact that a large proportion of time is spent on the extraneous classes one has to take for an undergraduate degree. With all the time and money invested, it would stand that it may be better overall for someone to just get a job and get on the job experience instead of throwing money at school.
Colleges are populated with people of a very narrow set of ideologies (typically on the left). It is not wrong for one to hold such opinions, but where this becomes a problem is that these people are extremely hostile to those who disagrees with them. This makes it so a large proportion of students are only exposed to one point of view of the world and have very little exposure to other sides.
The best equivalent of this is when I stopped being religious. Even as a child, it bothered me that I was told never to listen to non-Christians and what they had to say. It's just to create an environment of indoctrination and not one of exposure to ideas and concepts.
A friend of mine said it the best, "Colleges are just engines for the creation of hyper-left debt slaves."
Should You Attend?
The general answer to this is it depends. There are some career paths that either absolutely require attendance to a college or university, either by a practical standard or by fiat while others don't really have any requirement to it at all.
Always remember that if you are a student and you are finding little value in what you are doing, not to fall into a sunk cost fallacy when deciding to see it to completion. If you can get a job in the field you are after, and you don't generate any further value from continuing, leave school. You will likely be able to finish later if needed. On the job experience is likely a much better investment long term, since you are getting paid rather than paying out to someone else for that experience.
You should really also consider a trade job if its something you'd be interested or happy with. People in those fields are in short supply and demand for those services are always present. They also tend to pay very well.
Some fields have much higher value than others. Some jobs markets are saturated and others are not. Some jobs may not benefit from having any higher education. It goes without saying that fields in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics will provide a much higher value than those in art, humanities, or history.
One should ask the questions of whether their career (or non-career) goals would truly benefit from a college education and whether those benefits appreciably outweigh the costs associated (time and money).
My general recommendation is that if you cannot attend college without taking a life-sucking loan, you should really consider not going. This is not always appropriate though because some fields are quite lucrative and would allow you to pay back those loans rather quickly. Many people will take on a loan for, say, an art degree, then be stuck with no way to service their loans. This is not a situation that is beneficial to the borrower.
Does your career path actually require a college degree? This is often a simple question to answer, such as that of becoming a medical doctor. You cannot proceed as a medical doctor without a college degree.
Other fields, like more creative fields such as art or music where you do not plan on taking a role in an academic environment, really do not benefit with an ever-increasingly expensive degree.
Do you have a personal goal of obtaining a degree for your own personal reasons? This is a valid reason to attend. Just remember that the college will always be there when you are financially able to take on that cost.