If the SATs are a university's way of evaluating students, than a college degree is an employer's way of making hiring decisions. If you don't attend college at all, your chances of making decent money are slim.
Economist Tim Harford explores the costs and benefits of a university education. He cites recent research that institutions like Oxford enrich their communities not only as popular destination sites but also as signals of future investments in education, which boosts regional income. However, Harford also outlines the opposite argument from economics professor Brian Kaplan who thinks college education is a yardstick for socioeconomic status.
“To the extent that Caplan is right, undergraduate degrees have no value to society: they enable employers to pay higher wages to smarter workers, but lower wages to everyone else — and in order to enjoy these higher wages, smart people must waste time and money going to the trouble of acquiring a degree. Everyone might be better off if the whole business was abandoned.”
Furthermore, what purpose does college serve when in today's Internet age, new skills emerge with rapid technological innovation and when anything you want to learn is online for free?
It's hard to argue against the university as a worthy investment, if only for ensuring a backup plan. Careers rest on college degrees, and work becomes a way of life for most people, letting it determine their identity and social value.
University acts like modern day caste system. But at the end of the day, college is what you make it. For most people, that piece of graduation paper makes all the difference in their lives.