Speaking as a foreign-born college professor in the U.S., I think that this whole anti-college mentality in the U.S. is largely fuelled by the excessive cost of higher education in this country. Most of the countries that are rising economic competitors with the U.S. are investing in higher education, trying to encourage more students to graduate, and creating a more-skilled workforce. The new President of Mexico has campaigned on a platform of confrontation of Mexico's entrenched teacher unions and wants the country to focus on improving its poor educational outcomes that are holding back development and long-term GDP growth, particularly in tertiary education.
In the U.S. state government funding for higher education has been reduced substantially since the 1980s (e.g. University of California, University of Michigan, University of Minnesota). Most of these systems are only nominally state-funded now; they essentially function like private institutions with revenues coming from endowments (i.e. charitable giving); corporate partnerships and patents; and tuition. Compare this with France or Germany where universities are nearly completely state-funded, and consequently where tuition costs are almost neglible (France = 150-500 euros per semester; Germany = 50 to 500 euros per semester).
There are of course problems in European universities with lack of resources for research, poor salaries, underfunding of amenities like buildings, facilities, computer labs etc. But students are not hobbled by tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt. Is is not for this reason that these countries lack the anti-college movements we see here in America? Education is viewed primarily as a public rather than private good in these countries; and while it is connected to economic development and incentives these are understood in national terms rather than in terms of individual earning potential.
There is also the sense that university education is oriented towards abstract learning that has intrinsic value (what used to be called 'philosophy' understood in a broad sense, e.g. in the term PhD, and whose purpose is understood in terms of the expansion of human knowledge ) rather than practical job training whose value can be measured in monetary terms. When the cost of a degree is low, an investment of several years in this kind of learning seems reasonable even if it does not immediately lead to a career track.
In my opinion, it would be best to strengthen the community college and state university systems in the U.S., and develop programs of study explicitly oriented towards careers and job training for substantially lower cost (perhaps even with funding from potential employers. Students who are not interested in academics for intrinsic reasons should be encouraged to go to these sorts of institutions (which might develop their own 'elite' variants). In contrast, (a smaller number) of research universities should emphasize their traditional mission of abstract learning, scholarship, basic research and disciplinary progress largely independent of immediate economic incentives. It seems that most American students see college as a means to an end, a waystation on the path to a career. These students need to have a cheaper practical alternative, while the most motivated, intelligent and intellectually curious students who are in a position to make a contribution to an academic field of learning and don't care about making big $$$ should be supported in their endeavors.