Starting salaries for college grads may be higher, but what is the average starting salary for someone fresh out of school, with no prior work history? "College grad" is a large, vague group of people that includes new graduates all the way up to (and beyond?) retirement age. How many of these fresh grads are severely underemployed for the first few years after they get their degree, and don't actually start making a decent amount until later? I bet you can walk into any Starbucks, throw a stick, and hit someone with a degree. I actually work with a person right now who is finishing up a masters, but can't get a job in their field and worked at Starbucks prior to joining up with us doing gopher work.
My situation was not a tragedy, nor extreme. I started work right out of high school, and spent the next 8 years realizing I didn't what to do what I was doing anymore. It gave me the motivation to do well in school, and gave me a goal. I also didn't know what I wanted to do as a career until I knew what I didn't want to do. It was tiring, with long nights, but I had fun and it felt like an accomplishment to pull it off with a 4.0gpa. I believe everyone should work while they go to school. Colleges can't teach you how to function within a business organization. They don't teach you people skills, office politics, what not to say to the boss even when he's wrong, how to make your measly paycheck last until the next one and beyond, etc. Living in the bubble that is college, and then being thrown to the wolves as soon as you're done, has got to be a terrifying experience. It benefited me greatly to experience all the crap that goes along with employment in a job that I was all to happy to be leaving.
College education is hugely important for living well in this day and age. Asking adults to start working to pay for their college is a great lesson in life: nothing is actually free. You set them up with a 4 year 'free' ride, then expect them to be instantly successful living in this big scary world afterwards is just setting them up for failure, especially since they're leaving the gates with a massive debt load. If you want to make an argument, it should be 'college should be cheaper', which I won't disagree with. "College should be 'free', except not really and by the way good luck kid" is not a great system for positive outcome.