I like the idea of universal education. As others here have noted, the problem in the U.S. is the positive feedback loop between a government guaranteed loan, which cannot be discharged through bankruptcy, and college pricing. The makes the incentives all wrong, similar to the housing crisis where mortgage brokers got paid getting people into loans - they didn't care if they were unaffordable, that was "somebody else's" problem. Colleges admit warm bodies in order to saddle them with prices that grow faster than the market can bear, because this market is underwritten by a government loan.
What is needed is a multi pronged change in the system:
Colleges currently charge the same per credit hour for all majors. Not throwing any field of study under the bus, but some majors enable more job prospects than others. Therefore, to better reflect actual earning potential, colleges should start charging different amounts depending on the field of study. Basically, a business major should pay more for their classes than a medieval literature scholar.
On the loan side, the government should only allow a student to borrow an amount of money based on their planned field of study. This amount should vary only by field of study, not college they were admitted to. So Harvard can keep charging its high rates, but average student X who has a choice between them and a good public school in their state, will either need to supplement with scholarships, work, private loans, family money, or by taking the more affordable option. Also in this scheme, the amount the government will loan will be tied to the average starting salary of students with that particular degree.
Don't like it? Well, free market folks, corporate America has already decided on the value of every single degree a university can grant. It's called the starting salary offered to student with that major. Across the entire country, the IRS can supply an average every year of what the actual, real salaries of new grads is, and the system can be readjusted every year.
It's a harsh reality, but somebody wanting to major in art history isn't, on average, going to earn as much as somebody studying computer science. That difference should be reflected in the cost of their classes and the amount they can borrow. Don't like that? Fine, locate a funding source for your desires outside the public trough.
This would force colleges to alter their current pricing model, and also help put a lid on the runaway inflation in tuition. Somebody that just wants a general college degree in something they find interesting can major in what they want to for less money. Colleges can't jack their rates up 15% a year knowing that money is guaranteed, regardless of the ability for the student to repay it, regardless of the value of the degree (again, in this context value means "what corporate America will pay someone with that degree as a starting salary").
Right now colleges get paid for shoveling people into anything they want to major in, and increase costs at will. This needs to be stopped.