I got this impression due to the proliferation of employers that now require a degree despite the jobs not needing one, and the seeming focus of universities on career training. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that career training is bad or that no jobs need college, but I feel that learning has taken a backseat to other concerns. I had assumed this was employer/ student driven due to requiring degrees for jobs and the students reacting to this.
Furthermore, the trend towards universities working on a business model, with students as the customer, I saw as exacerbating this downfall of higher education. Certainly, some students do buy into this bullshit, as when they try to sharply remind my coworkers and I that they pay our salaries, or when they talk about deserving a degree based on how much money they've spent (as opposed to, I don't know, say, how much work they have put towards it).
Of course I knew that not all people see higher education in this way, but nor did I think many held as nostalgic or idealistic view as I hold... And then I did a section on education for my culture class. We were looking at cross cultural perceptions of intelligence and learning. I asked my students how many of them were in college because they wanted a good job. Everyone raised their hand - no surprises there. Then some explanations started to roll in. A few students told me they like learning, but with the cost of school they couldn't afford to go if it wasn't for the hope of a better job. So I asked a follow up question - how many of you would continue in school if money were no object, if you won the lottery or something like that?
Almost everyone raised their hands. Now this surprised me. Perhaps I've been misreading this quiet group.
And the class ended with an exercise in the zombie apocalypse.