While I believe that the amount of debt I accrued during my time in college was high, and is a significant part of my monthly budget now (~1 mortgage payment), I do not believe that I could have gained the knowledge, experience, and training in any other way.
It may be argued that life experience, time in the local library, etc, can give someone a great deal of useful education. And honestly, I don't disagree. However, my population 6,000 hometown had none of the resources available to compare to 3.5 years of undergraduate mechanical engineering curriculum from my alma mater. "Stress" was a psychological term, not a mathematical description of load and area. "Fluid dynamics" sounded like a plumber's job, not the study of pressures and flows in liquids and gases. Nobody in Small Town, Ohio knew about AutoCAD, or Maple, or Fortran, or differential equations, mechatronics, or engineering management. These are all things I learned first in college, and have since refined in my professional practice on a daily basis.
I agree that not all costs for college seem rational for the student, and indeed, many colleges do take advantage of their "customers". For me, I'm glad I made the investment, as it's expanded my understanding of the world and my earning potential (well in excess of what it costs me, even 10 yrs beyond graduation). I would make the same purchase again. And I'll teach my kids about the costs and benefits and help them pay if they choose to and our college savings are adequate.