Some back story, and then my question:
I took a "break" from getting a university education last year to work full time as back end developer on a GIS application at $10.50 an hour. Later that year I was hired on by a fairly prestigious organization on their GIS application for a meager salary + rockin' benefits (not that I need them). I agreed to work on this project through Summer 2012.
I don't feel like I'm being fairly compensated for my time. Other team members make between 3-5 times as much as I do, and their work isn't 3-5 times as good as mine, nor do they have 3-5 times as much output.
I don't think this is a rectifiable situation within this institution. They've got a set of personnel charts and the way it gets computed, I make less money than any of the janitors (who are very good, and very nice people to boot, and I'm glad they get paid so well. I wish everyone got livable wages).
I'm pretty bright, but school's a drag. I don't want mega bucks, I just want $40k/yr (localized to the southeast united states) so I can save enough money to travel, or maybe "finish [my] education".
My question is this: Are people without degrees ever compensated commensurate with other people who have degrees? As a someone who never "finished their education", how badly do you think this as hurt you? How do you navigate the job seeking and hiring process? As someone who hires programmers, do you pay more for diplomas? Is that an institutional necessity, or based on your own value judgement?