You beat me to it. Also, the new "drones" are easier to fly than regular airplanes, and come as consumer or prosumer goods, instead of being stick built like in the old days.
Also, "Get off my lawn!"
Ok, despite you just insulting me, I'm going to try to seriously answer.
First, I was under the impression we were talking mainly about liberal arts. Not fine arts, not math/physics/science/accounting for the most part. In the cases of lit, philosophy, history, unless you're really going to generate new academic content, it's not progressive. That said, I'll freely admit you have a point regarding advanced math and science.
Second, guaranteed loans. Uh, these are guaranteed for the schools. Not the students. In other words, they (schools) get paid whether the person who takes them out to pay for the degree finds the degree economically benefical or not. If it's not clear what the problem with that system is, it's that it encourages universities to charge a lot for financial black-hole degrees.
Now, regarding another of your questions, specifically "Why can't a person learn about programming, advanced mathematics, advanced physics, etc... at the library or taking a night class?", I think I can reasonably respond that LOTS of people have had success learning programming on the job, or with curated enrichment at the direction of a manager, mentor, etc., as I've done for others and have had done for me. Maybe that could also work for math and science - I can't say for sure because I don't know, but in at least one of those cases, I have solid proof that people can excel without being in the 4-year system.
Maybe the Germans have collectively decided that the cost of the education is trivial compared to the long term gains of keeping some highly educated people around, or having its own citizens be educated.
I think part of that collective attitude is also that Germans do not have much tolerance for people and subcultures which are belligerent to the idea of education. It is much easier to have a socialist system when you don't have radically different values in different subcultures within your society.
Most liberal arts studies are not progressive once you've completed Composition 1 & 2. At that point there is very little that is not based primarily on study of a specific area (i.e. Existential Philosophers, Renaissance Art, Modern American Literature) that typically doesn't have more than two semesters of study at the undergrad level (i.e. there is really no such thing as a English Lit 4, it is just a matter of adding fungible study areas).
Applied fields like medicine, science, engineering, accounting, and the fine and performing arts are very different, and tend to be more progressive. But I thought it was somewhat clear that we are talking about the "enrichment" areas of study in this thread.
You cannot learn everything "on the fly" from Wikipedia or skimming through popular science books.
Which is why I specifically suggested private lessons and referenced my 7 years of study, or night classes, in addition to self-directed study.
I honestly don't mean to create that dichotomy
Fair enough - and you definitely didn't create that dichotomy (I shouldn't have said that), but the prevailing view, as I see it, is that education is seen as a thing segregated to professional educators in a classroom situation, and that universities or technical for-profit schools have status as recognized educational authorities, and to some extent your post feeds that view.
Lots of expensive for-profit technical schools and 4-year universities take money from students and offer little in return. Even an art history degree, if it isn't rigorous, has little intrinsic value.
I think part of the issue is the specific mindset that locks people in to giving money to colleges DESPITE the ridiculous costs. Next, asking better questions about why it's so expensive is a good place to start: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04...