I've read a lot of articles recently about how higher education is the next "bubble" that's going to burst, arguing against formal education and arguing that many students have unrealistic expectations and end up drowning financially due to college loan debt.
This article provides a counter argument, and I tend to agree that in the long run, college is and will continue to be a good investment for a lot of (though not all) people - with a few caveats:
I think college and especially taking on student loans in this economy needs to be thought through carefully, and those who choose that path should proceed with caution. i.e don't go to a private school you can't afford when you can go to a state school, consider community college for 2 years, be wary of non-accredited for-profit schools, consider work programs on or off campus, and by all means do everything in your power to finish. As the article stated, 50% of people who enter 4 year programs don't finish, and sadly that does take a financial toll & the benefits of going (statistically speaking, not talking about Bill Gates here) drop dramatically if you don't finish.
I think it's unfair to expect 18 year olds to know what they want to do in 10 years, but it's important to at least think about early on. You can chase your dream, but it's important to have realistic expectations too. Maybe it's not a great idea to take on 100K debt to go to a prestigious art school for 4 years if there's not a great demand for jobs that require 4 year art degrees, and the jobs that are out there pay 20K a year.
I'm not such a pessimist that I would tell a kid "college is a waste of money; you'll end up being a barista with an 80K loan weighing you down till you retire" but I would advise to proceed with caution & especially so with anything that legitimately does require six figure loans (med school or law school). If you're going to law or med school you better be damn sure.
The number one piece of advice I would give though to anyone considering college is to finish. This isn't meant to make anyone feel bad who didn't finish because I get that life happens, but if you decide to go to college, you should go with the intention of finishing.