I divide this question into three categories of high school students: academic underachievers, academic overachievers, and independent overachievers.
1. I think a lot of underachieving high school students should not be going to four year colleges. Marty Nemko says the “U.S. Department of Education reports that among the hundreds of thousands of college freshmen who graduated in the bottom 40% of their high school class, 2/3 do not graduate even if given 8 1/2 years. Most mediocre high school students would be wiser to consider apprenticeship programs, short-term career training programs at community college, or learning entrepreneurship at the elbow of good and ethical small business owners.”
2. Among high achieving high school students, I think most should enroll in a four year college. This includes liberal arts programs. Even stand-out students in high school may not be motivated enough to do independent education. Many benefit from structure. All benefit from obtaining the credential.
3. Maybe 5-10% of high school high achievers should pursue higher education without attending a four year traditional college. This is the “Real Life University” option for entrepreneurial spirits. This is for folks who can learn a lot on their own, can assemble mentors and advisors to guide the process, and most of all find their creativity smothered by drudgery of school — or otherwise are on a trajectory higher than what college can offer — and therefore need an alternative path. Dropping out after a semester or two may be the optimal point in terms of a taste of a common experience and the institutional affiliation…
So, I would say among high school grads currently enrolling in four year college, ~ 25% of them should instead be going to vocational schools and the like, ~ 65% should stay in four year colleges, and 10% (the more independent of the high achievers) should be exploring alternative paths to get educated.
I expect the percentage of students in #3 — those high achievers who choose to not graduate from a four year — will grow over time thanks to the weakening signaling value of a B.A. and the emergence of semi-structured learning options for high potential 18 year-olds.
Here is my post on the three categories of benefit of going to college. For clarity and concision, I believe it stands above my other posts on the topic.