Sorry-Nate--Gotta chime in here. If OP is in UK, the system is far different than ours here in USA. Even Canada deals with the issue of higher education certifications differently. Much of the spiraling costs for higher ed are an American phenomenon.
It makes a whole lot of difference where bibliophile is located. In the UK, passing certain exams that are associated with 'high schools' make one eligible for university or working in the trades.
However, while college is expensive in the US, it is often necessary for employment. It guarantees a certain level of expertise for many jobs. Service industries and blue collar jobs are low-paying in the USA, and many of them are disappearing fast. See the following link from Pew research Center, which discusses starting salary and lifetime earning parity, as well as part-time versus full-time work status.
Post Edited (Myself 09) : 7/17/2015 2:34:27 PM (GMT-6)