There are many reasons why someone being tens of thousands of dollars in debt for a degree in Women's Studies is symptomatic of the problems with higher education, or indeed all of education, in the United States. This goes beyond the problem of trying to steal the cause by emulating the effect and is actually a problem with education itself.
The biggest problem with higher education is that it is trying to achieve conflicting purposes. Some say that higher education is for enrichment and enlightenment, to teach people how to think and to create a broadened perspective. If that is true, then a higher education is a luxury item, and not one that a person should go into debt for at all. The more expensive the luxury item, the more people who cannot afford expensive luxury items should not purchase education. It is horribly politically incorrect to think of education as a luxury for the rich though.
On the other hand, if education is supposed to train one for a career, then again there is no reason why a person should go tens of thousands of dollars into debt for a Women’s Studies degree. If the purpose is to train for a career, then there is something horribly wrong with the educational priorities demonstrated in the United States today. Many people talk about the need for STEM, but the discussion on campus is typically about strengthening the position of the multi-cultural departments.
Even on a typical campus not overrun by multi-culturalism, when the curriculum is being developed each department lobbies to increase their share of the core requirements. It takes a firm hand by the college administration to hold down the core requirements to that they do not overwhelm the course load required by the student of the college. Each of these additions to the required courses hearkens back to the purpose of college being enlightenment instead of applicable to a career. Assuming the purpose is to apply to a career, the enlightenment purpose tends to seep back in over time, increasing the cost.
Assuming again that the purpose is to train for a career, the many people taking the enlightenment and enrichment courses are competing for class space and allocated funds, taking funds away from career oriented courses of study and raising the price for those who would directly benefit from being in college. Both the philosophy major and the engineering major have to take Freshman English, and there are only so many seats in the class. That raises the price of college for the engineering major who is a perfect example of the second potential purpose of education.
One does not need to major in science to have a directly applicable career coming out of college. A typical junior college includes many departments not offered in a typical four year college that train in many trades. At a four year college there are departments that include various aspects of finance, education, or interpreting, as examples of immediately applicable majors.
Then, as John Taylor Gatto has pointed out, there is a third purpose to education as it is set up today, also conflicting. It is to train people to accept the governmental system that exists today and to make obedient workers. That has potential to overlap with the purpose of training for a career but conflicts grossly with the purpose of enlightenment.
Combine all of these with the progressive effort to capture the cause by emulating the effect, a cargo-cult mentality with what makes one successful, and the cost of education can only climb absurdly so that even those who do manage to cut through the nonsense and are sensible enough to major in something that can be applied, even they can no longer afford college. The cargo-cult mentality, hoping to make everyone successful, will result in nobody being successful.