A couple of thoughts on this thread. First, success shouldn't be measured by where you work or how much you make. It should be measured by happiness. Sure, there are some correlations with money & happiness. But there are also correlations with money & misery.
Next, what happened to companies that really valued education? Most are looking for college degrees but few are offering substantial benefits around getting degrees. Students loans may be necessary but I've seen a few people here mention the military (good option) but almost no one mention tuition reimbursement. These company benefits used to be great. Now I see they are minnow (maybe $2000/year but still better than loans/nothing).
So here's how I did it (and if you can find a company that still has reimbursement, then try to work for them). I worked in a call center full time, 2nd shift through college (Utility company). Great job with 100% tuition reimbursement for A's (80%-B's, 60%-Cs) & 100% books. It was a perfect, low stress job with great hours for school. I actively sought out this job for this benefit. 5 years later I had 2 degrees and a minor and no loans. Like a previous poster, I leveraged community college for cheap classes for the first 2 years. The only downside to this was that the company didn't have anything for me after graduation. Oh well, I was on my way.
Got another job with a Big 5 accounting firm. They also had a good benefit so I let them pay for my graduate degree. Same kind of grade based system. Again, worked full time and went to school (nights this time).
I should also mention that my mom did help a bit as incentive. I was several years out of high school scraping by and she wanted me to get back to school. Her plan was similar to the others - she would match tuition for classes with A's only: no books, no fees and only at the university level. Smart call (and massive thanks), mom!
I graduated with no debt. I paid off my wife's students loans. After 4 years with Big 5 and saving some money, I quit and took my wife around the world for a year. Total cost was about 27K. This itself was a master class in humanities, history, operations/supply chain, management, etc. We came back just after 9/11 I spent 6 months looking for work. I finally got a job and worked my way up. I've more than doubled my salary since 2002. But I'm happy with my wife, family and experiences.
Was college worth it? Yes. I worked my arse off to make good grades while working full time to reduce my expense. But the ultimate was being able to use my education to make enough money to travel. That was learning you won't get in college.
Sorry for the ramble, but I feel education and learning are important. It doesn't matter where or how you do it, but be smart about it. Like most things of value, they come with effort. Find the right way to do it.
PS - there are companies out there that still pay for education. Seek them out!
PSS - save a portion of your salary for things you enjoy.