The question Do you need a degree ... was closed as off-topic as it clearly applied to any area of development, not specifically open/free content development.
This question is a re-framing, but very specifically from the open/free side. However, some background is required to properly do so.
At the time I completed high school, degrees in software engineering (as opposed to computer science) were few and far between. After taking a brief - privately run - course, I was easily able to get hired as a programmer. No interviewer even questioned my lack of degree - they were more interested in what I could do.
That has all changed today. Here in California, a degree of any kind is considered necessary to even begin searching for a job - and not just in software. I know many people with degrees in business or marketing filling posts we would once have considered 'menial'. It is a standing joke here that the University of California will soon be offering a Bachelors of Retail Science to help people get work as checkout operators at supermarkets - and that the supermarkets will then demand applicants have this degree.
However, focusing on creative domains such as software engineering and the arts, the open/free content movement appears to have no such barrier to entry.
Are there indications that this movement is opening the way for "unqualified" people to find positions in their respective industry?
- Are there statistics about the average age of contributors to major open projects?
- Similarly for their qualifications?
- Are there well known examples of non-degreed people moving from the open world into professional positions on the strength of their published work?
In short, can an early dedication to open/free content creation help you bypass the cost of a University education? Does this increase the equality of opportunity for the less well off?
Lest people think my comment about the California job market is just an urban myth, vague feelig, or localized phenomenon, see this quote
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that total employment is expected to increase by 20.5 million jobs from 2010 to 2020, with 88 percent of detailed occupations projected to experience employment growth. In the midst of all this, jobs requiring a master’s degree are expected to grow the fastest, while those requiring a high school diploma will experience the slowest growth over the 2010- 20 time frame.
From the article By 2018, 60 percent of job openings will require college education. The article itself is not a primary source but it cites (or at least quotes) BLS statistics and reports to support the headline.
Further The Economist devoted a large part of its January 24, 2015 Edition to issues surrounding college education, its social and financial costs, and the growing gap in equality of opportunity.