Robert, I agree that there are a number of reasons for deflating the idea that everyone must go to college. It’s not just a matter of encouraging young people to think of other career paths, but of pushing society toward realizing that college may not be necessary for every endeavor and toward developing attractive non-college career paths, as they have in Europe. (This is one thing Europe does better than we do. We seem to have a gift for making everything a prospect for higher education. The tourist industry is a big area of employment in Europe, for example, and as far as I know, one does not need college to enter it. But here, we have developed college-level certificates in ”hospitality management”!)
You also make the point that the graphs and statistics showing higher earnings for college grads don’t include the people who managed only ”some college” and who you say may actually be worse off than someone who didn’t attempt college. I have heard this cited as one of the ways the data is manipulated to make going to college look like a big net plus, by leaving out those who have taken courses but not managed to finish the degree. But it is not immediately evident to me why such a person is worse off, as you say, than someone who hasn’t even attempted college. Wouldn’t “some college” be an advantage for certain employers? Does it actually work against a person?
And at present, we can’t forget that, considering career apart from simple earnings, even if it were true that one might be able to earn the same in a non-college career, there are career choices that at present are open only to grads. This is unfortunate, but it is one of the ways that higher education has succeeded in making itself indispensable, at least for now.