The Weekly Standard's Andrew Ferguson takes a skeptical look. Ferguson discusses the division between seeing higher-education as mere job training (a view that grates on me) and education as creating a well-rounded person (that's closer to mine). I like the liberal arts ideal, and I think education is a good in itself (or nearly so). It creates a citizenry with the broad background that lets them see the relationships between different aspects of life, the universe, and everything. Rather than an existence narrowly focused on our chosen jobs.
Hmm...I don't think I've expressed that too clearly, but my point is that I like people to be well rounded.
Anyway, Ferguson notes that the apparently low college graduation rates are largely a result of immigration, and that it ignores the increasingly common return of older adults to college.
One thing that does stand out is the President's remark that high school or college drop-outs are giving up on their country. That line got some applause in Congress. I don't know that it's clearly questioning the patriotism of the drop-outs, as Ferguson and some of the guys at National Review have suggested. But it does fall into the category of treating a person's education as a national resource. In some sense, it is--it contributes to the health of the country. But there's a related tendency to regard it primarily as the possession of the country.
With that comes the attitude that the government can and should direct your path through higher education for its ends. If you don't go to college, you're seen as harming the country. Perhaps you'll be required to do what's best for the country, rather than what you see as best for yourself. The states already do that with regards to schooling up through the age of 16 (at least that's the legal drop-out age in Tennessee, last time I checked). That's been so long established that we don't really question the underlying principle. I don't have any desire to eliminate that, but I disagree with extending the guiding attitude to college. I doubt they'd be able to pass an education requirement for anyone past the age of majority, anyway.