Does a college degree give you status? Maybe 50 years ago, when a college degree was more scarce, but nowadays a PHD in a STEM field confers much more social status and earning power than, say, a 4-year degree in something less intellectually rigorous like child development or gender studies. Intellectualism, wealth, and status are becoming increasingly intertwined, especially in the post-2008 economy. This is because people who are smarter are more ‘fit’ for survival in the post-2008 economy, as part of Social Darwinism 2.0. Those who aren’t fit, obviously don’t die physically from a predator, but they tend to die inside, emotionally, from economic hardship and low social status.
The problem is when students take out a lot of debt for a degree that may not have a high ROI. At least with STEM (especially computer science and engineering) you have a better shot of repaying the debt than, for example, with comparative literature. You can learn the humanities for free by going to the library or reading Wikipedia. While you can self-learn abstract physics and math concepts, often in STEM you need labs and other equipment that necessitates some sort of classroom setting.
From the comments, someone gives examples of famous and successful people who either did not go to college or dropped out:
The following people did not graduate college (and many never even attended): Ansel Adams, Winston Churchill, Walt Disney, Bob Dylan, Thomas Edison, Bobby Fischer, Henry Ford, Bill Gates, J. Paul Getty, John Glenn, Barry Goldwater, William Randolph Hearst, Steve Jobs, John D. Rockefeller, J.D. Salinger, Taylor Swift, Ted Turner, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman and Mark Zuckerberg.
As I explain in an earlier article, Much Needed IQ Realism in the Anti and Pro College Movements, innate talent and IQ plays a bigger role in success than whether or not someone graduates from college. All he did was cherry pick examples of high-IQ/talented people who were successful without college, passing it off as being representative of the general population of dropouts. People with below-average IQs who drop out of college tend to accomplish little in life, often going on welfare or doing low-paying jobs for the remainder of their lives. They very seldom (or at a rate much lower than high-IQ dropouts) become successful. They’re not gonna become the next Disney or Gates, that’s for sure.
Also, times have changed. Barriers of entry to entrepreneurship are higher, as are the failure rates. UP until 2008, housing, mining, construction offered good pay for college drop-outs, but the housing construction market imploded in 2006 and never recovered, as well as the the mining and energy markets in 2011 and 2014, respectively. Oil fell from $100 in 2013 to $40 as of August 2014, causing mass layoffs in the whole energy sector. That includes alternative energy, which is less attractive when oil prices plunge. With the exception of a small blip in 2000-2002, high-tech is much more resilient to macro conditions, but the IQ barriers to entry are higher, with or without a college degree.