Smed, you are correct about many paths to education. One of the most educated people I knew was my father. He dropped out of HS at the end of the 44 school year to enlist in the Navy during WWII. He received training in the Navy as a radioman but was a Quartermaster on his ship. He went to radio school after the Navy but dropped out because he was teaching the instructor. He never got his diploma or GED but was better educated than many teachers and college professors I had. He read constantly, listened to people and used to learn just for the enjoyment of learning.
The problem is when looking for job in this day and age if you don't have that piece of paper from some school or another you are fighting an uphill battle as too many people are more concerned with the diploma and not with the knowledge. I know this from experience, a long long time ago when I got out of the Navy, I applied for a job at the NASA wind tunnel facility in Langley, VA. I had three years experience working with high pressure hydraulic and air systems on board my submarine. The manager of the facility wanted to hire me but policy pushed the guy with six months tech school and the piece of paper and no experience above me on the hiring list.