Alot of middle class kids in the 1980s and 1990s got funneled out of high school straight into a four-year college because they had just always been on a "college track".
Parents, teachers, counselors and students all just assumed that college was a default for kids that were on this track, even when there wasn't a clear career goal.
People would sometimes spend a couple years "undeclared" in college before deciding on a major. Sometimes people ended up with degrees that were not really worth much (ancient philosophy or something). Sometimes they ended up with valuable good degrees but found out they just weren't suited to the field for some reason, or they had some mental or physical reason why they couldn't continue in that field, or the job market in that field dried up, or a combination of those factors.
One effect of this has been that if these folks took loans to invest in an education, they sometimes face great difficulty paying the loans off because they don't make enough money in the jobs they end up in.
It also seems like this over-educated under-employed class of people have been some of the early strong supporters of the Occupy-related protests. The burden of student debt and the lack of quality life opportunities (i.e. jobs) are among the issues the protesters seek to draw attention to.
I'm not sure whether the practice of funneling kids strait out of high school into college still goes on or not. But I think these issues are becoming more clear to people, and I wouldn't be surprised to see college applications decreasing.