1: Take the same 4 years you spend going through college and spend it at one job. Yes, you will start with a likely lesser-paying job (which does not require a degree), but if you pick the right company, within the 4 years you'll be promoted at least once, and have a couple of raises. Even if by the end you are not earning as much as you would with the degree you would have had, you have no college debt
, you have in fact been earning
money that entire time.
You're also gaining experience at the same time which many businesses do value as much as education in equivalent quantities
. In other words imagine a job opening, and you have 1 candidate fresh out of college with a BA in a desirable subject, and another candidate with 4 years experience on the job in the field you're hiring for. Even an HR minion is going to have to pay some attention to those 4yrs of practical experience. Next imagine the scenario with an MA (6+yrs), or Ph.D. (8+yrs). 8 years practical job experience vs. a freshly graduated Ph.D. with no experience on the job outside of perhaps an internship? Hmm... Not to mention that it's 4 years for a BA if you're lucky these days, given recent cut-backs (at least here in California) resulting in fewer classes with less room, and thus needing more time to graduate (average is becoming 5 years).
And don't forget the debt is stacking up the whole time, so even if you're qualified for a higher paying position, you'll spend at least a few years paying off the debt, so you can tack those on to the job experience option too. Say you spend 2 years paying off debt, now we're talking 10 years on the job experience vs. the Ph.D. grad with 2 years experience. Which earns more? Which is more hireable? I'm not saying there's a clear winner, but I do think it's debatable enough that going to college shouldn't be a foregone conclusion for anyone. Sure, you'll have to accept a lesser position to start, but it can easily be worth it, especially at a good company.
We'll leave the possibility of company-sponsored education out of the consideration for now, but it definitely still happens...
2: If the company you're applying for has a stupid HR department, try a different company. It's hard work, but we as the working masses can train the companies that hire us to value the right characteristics in how and where we choose (or choose not) to apply.
Now of course there are many jobs where the knowledge required to do the job is so specialized, a degree is virtually a necessity. But these jobs are generally in the minority. Practical education in high school and developing critical thinking skills would really be the best preparation for most jobs.