You're right about academics being a focus in some cultures. If you look at the success of asians that come to the United States it is usually due to their parents having high hopes for their children. I wonder if the lack of encouraging higher education is going to create an even wider divide in the times to come. Here is a great quote from Carl Sagan's book The Demon-Haunted World:
Science is more than a body of knowledge; it is a way of thinking. I have a foreboding of an America in my chidren's or grandchildren's time-when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what's true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness.
Amazingly prescient considering that he wrote this in 1996.