As I was typing up my last post, which was started as a submission to JD Underground, I had a thought that had not previously occurred to me.
Our nation's Education Arms Race and culture of promoting higher education essentially constitutes a de facto form of class warfare and is an essential tool for social control. The rich (and our politicians and other powerful parties) have an interest in maintaining a widespread belief that people can work their way up and use education to lift themselves to a better economic state. (This way, people will accept gross income inequality because they will think that it's fair and the result of meritocracy and justice.) If someone goes to college and fails to attain a better life, our culture's belief in meritocracy leads people to believe that it is their fault. You didn't study hard enough or network hard enough, etc. If you didn't go to college then you are supposed to think that the reason why you are earning poverty slave wages is because you didn't go to college.
The promise of a better life through higher education almost fills the same role that religion did centuries ago. It helps maintain social control over the masses. It assuages feelings of anger and resentment at the upper classes by replacing them with feelings of hope for those who haven't pursued higher education and feelings of guilt for those who have but couldn't find a job commensurate with their investments in higher education.