Not everyone belongs in college. Sorry, that's a hard fact that goes against our current touchy feely climate. Some kids? Belong in a factory making widgets. Let's spend some money finding meaningful jobs instead of education kids who don't belong there for jobs that don't exist.
I agree with that, but it's not incompatible with making higher education more affordable for those that ARE college material.
I always thought Thailand had a good model. All graduating high schoolers take a national standard exam, and based on their scores they can choose their own placement; highest scores get first dibs on the best universities and the most desirable majors, for example medicine or law. And when those slots are filled the next highest can make their choices and so on down the line until all university entry slots are filled and the rest can either go to work at something appropriate to their intellectual level or pay handsomely for a private university (which have less prestige in Thailand --everybody knows why you are there). For those admitted to public universities costs are very low -- but medical and dental grads are required to spend some time after graduation in public hospitals and clinics to repay society for their education.
This meets your goal of keeping less-than-capable kids out of colleges where they waste their time and their parents' money. And it is totally merit-based. Yes, many may not be able to fulfill their lifelong ambition to be a doctor, lawyer or microbiologist, but reality is going to jump up and bite them at some time anyway.