Questioning the conventional wisdom of a 4-year degree seems to be gaining momentum as a recent trend. Or that could just be my perception due to reading early retirement blogs a lot.
I've personally always questioned the necessity of bachelor's degree as fast as possible for everything and everyone. I dared to suggest to my parents at least either taking a break from school or starting out part-time at community college. But that didn't sound impressive enough for my mother and I shipped off to the best state university that would accept me. I wasn't happy there, and after one year I transferred to a less bragworthy school, picked the even less bragworthy major in fine arts, after which I ended up in the unglamorous field of office admin. My parents could've saved themselves a small fortune if they'd agreed to either of my suggestions.
My father did suggest the military or ROTC, but at the time I was a childish starry-eyed daydreaming hippie and quite averse to either of those ideas until later in life.
When it comes to the 'necessity' of going straight to the most prestigious college that will accept you and achieving a four-year degree in doesn't-matter-what ASAP, I have a few anecdotal stories that I just love and plan to tell my kiddo when the time comes for her to start worrying about her independence and livelihood...
A cousin of mine took her sweet time after high school (as I had wanted to do), starting out part-time at the community college, which gave her a little more time to enjoy teenhood and grow up a bit. She later got her head in the game and graduated from a nearby state university with honors (without having ever taken the SATs).
A friend of mine from high school was a very bright student - always acing a full load of AP classes and achieved very high scores on the SATs. He graduated from one of the most prestigious private colleges in the state. However, in hindsight he wishes he'd done his first two years at community college instead, to save himself and his parents a large pile of money.
A friend of DH's was also a good student in high school, but precociously decided to skip the fuss and high-priced-debt-baggage of college, opting instead for a 2-year vocational certificate to become a medical technician. She now earns 50k a year in rural Indiana managing breathing machines (partly from taking a job in a neighboring high-crime area where they offered twice the pay of other local hospitals).
Another guy I grew up with also had the clarity to know college wasn't the best direction for him. He started mowing lawns after high school and is now the owner a multi-million-dollar landscaping company.
Then there's my story - I did eventually join the military when I was still a failure-to-launcher at 25 and realized I had to force myself out of the nest. It was there that I got the skills training and experience to end up with the high paying career I have now. The same line of work as DH who has yet to finish his Associates degree. While the Bachelors listed on my resume helped me snag a higher starting salary than he did, he now makes more than I do (due to a bit of company-jumping over the years). This underscores the lesson that while a degree (at least in our field) is a nice thing to have, it clearly wasn't necessary with specialized occupational training and job experience (via the military, in our case).
And that's my personal anecdotal evidence that an expensive college degree isn't the end-all-be-all for success in this country. I do think an Associate's degree or similar 1-2 year career studies certificate is a good goal after high school, but anything beyond that should be a highly personalized decision and not one driven by peer pressure and societal expectations.