Many universities have some students who just want a piece of paper (called a "Degree") in order to justify something to their parents and/or improve their odds of obtaining a job in their desired line of work.
There are other who students attend to obtain an education in order to better themselves, make themselves actually more valuable to potential employers, etc...
The mix between these types of students at any particular location of higher learning can vary wildly. Off the top of my head (i.e., no actual research done), I'd rate University of California, Santa Barbara as the biggest paper-seeking school in the nation and George Wythe College the one with the most students interested in an actual education. Having lived near and known students at both, UCSB is the "party" school, while GW isn't quite accredited yet (so no real piece of paper), but GW has a massive learning load that would astonish students at UCSB.
Both sets of students pay (via one method or another) in order to attend these colleges. The colleges don't pay them to attend class, do papers in their "free" time, etc...
Colleges and Universities have a long tradition and history in the world. There has also existed another tradition of learning, one typically considered more suited for less academic pursuits, but used in academia as well. It's the internship. Way back when, apprentices (or their parents) would pay the master of a craft to take them on as an intern. If they worked out they got a promotion to journeyman and started seeing some money, if not they went and found something else to do. Either way they learned something.
Mark Cuban has recently pointed out that the federal government's current stance on unpaid internships is "Screw You!" As in, an unpaid intern isn't making minimum wage, so therefore they are to be legally prevented from contracting to do a little marginal work in order to gain valuable experience and learn something valuable.
That stance is fine for the group that just wants a little cash in their pocket (albeit at the cost of higher unemployment among the youngest, the poorest and the least educated in our society), but what about people who are just in it for the learning?
There are many industries where school doesn't prepare you to be an immediately contributing employee in your chosen field. Either the employer takes a hit while waiting for you to learn enough to be useful, or you just don't get a job. In a recession economy where employers aren't desperate to find new employees, guess which one they will tend to choose?
So to the people who want an entry-level job or an unpaid internship in order to learn something that will actually enable them to get paid quite well in the future, via the minimum-wage laws Congress proclaims, "Screw You!"