05/17/2013 09:58 am ET Updated Jul 17, 2013

College Is Pricey and Irrelevant. Really?

Now that the Class of 2013 has secured their college plans, it's time for the next rite of spring -- a slew of articles popping up in May that question the cost, value, and necessity of college. This year's crop is particularly hardy, including one from a Nobel Prize winning economist, but the themes are universal.

College costs a lot of money There is no counter-argument to this claim -- when public-school families have to pay for something they're used to getting for free, it seems to cost too much. This problem seems to be getting worse because the most expensive private colleges now cost around $60,000; public colleges are hiking tuition to make up for cuts in state funding, and some colleges are giving away so many merit scholarships they are on the verge of financial ruin.

You might not be able to help the cash-strapped colleges, but you can limit the impact of costly colleges on your household by keeping this in mind:

Just because a college costs $60,000, you don't have to go there.

This is worth mentioning because an interesting report on consumer debt shows that average student loan debt stands at $33,445 -- but average credit card debt (for households that have it) is $15,162. Does this suggest that families who use credit cards to buy "splurge" goods they can't afford are using the same approach to choosing a college? Hard to say; but just in case, college-bound families with credit card debt would be wise to read Zach Bissonnette's book on making the most out of a public college.

You have to go to a name college to get ahead in life If "ahead" means "make more money than if you went to another college", this study suggests otherwise for a vast majority of students applying to highly selective schools. Unless you're a student of color, from a low-income household, or the first in your family to go to college, you're likely to make the same amount of money by simply going to college, period -- data supporting the idea that it isn't what the college does to you; it's what you do while you're in college.

Colleges will soon be replaced by MOOCs It is welcome news that some of the best professors in the nation are offering online versions of their class for free to anyone that wants to watch them. Bright thinkers can only make us all better thinkers when they share their ideas.

It's another issue when students take these courses to earn credits towards a college degree. Less than 8 percent of students enrolled in Massive Open Online Courses actually complete them, suggesting that MOOCs play an important role in the sharing of ideas, but not in the assessment of what students learn.

College will soon be unnecessary The low completion rate of MOOCs suggests students aren't quite ready to prepare for careers without the modest structure college provides -- but of course, there's more to college than vocational preparation. For better or worse, college is a place where students grow up; where they learn the rest of the world doesn't look like them, and the entire world isn't all about them. Interacting with people who see things differently and who live different lives is a key component to realizing that growth.

The college experience can't be fully be realized if the only way students meet is through a screen, or rushing to get credentialed to be a better worker. College is more than learning a trade; it's also about learning to be a better person. That makes college a most important place, indeed.