I'm not going to argue with you either. However, you are, by your own admission, a novice and a student. All the answers I've read here so far are from other students and novices.
Let me give you some real world advice backed by over 32 years as a Graphic Artist and Designer, with 25 years at a top 50 US advertising agency.
1) On the whole, people with a degree (or "qualification" to use your term) earn more over their lifetime than people without. On the whole, the higher degree (or qualification) you have, the more you will make over your lifetime. That is an undeniable fact.
2) That notwithstanding, another undeniable FACT is, it is your portfolio that matters now and always. Equal to that is how well you a) listen, b) communicate creative ideas and c) take correction. There are lots of people with degrees flipping burgers because their talent (or skill) is limited or no one wants to work with them. Considering you seem hell bent that one MUST have a degree to succeed, I suggest you work on a and c. I'm not trying to insult you, but if my previous sentence made you mad, it proves my point.
3) The way to get ahead in Graphic Design is to BE WILLING TO MOVE, to leave one job after 2 or 3 years for a better job. If you are in a small town, move to a bigger one for more opportunities. As you improve your skills, your portfolio will improve. Then use use your better portfolio to get a better job. The REALITY is, once you get a job, you will only typically see raises of 2%-5% a year. Even if you leave a company (on good terms) and come back, you will be able to command higher pay than if you stay there year in and year out.
4) The REALITY is life is not fair. You will have more luck getting a job because you have the right connections than you will because of a degree or even a portfolio.However, once you have a job, it will be the portfolio and or/degree that lets you keep the job.
5) DO NOT LIE to your employer. It is a symptom of bigger problems you have if you do. The REALITY, however, is if they want to get rid of you they will find an excuse. So ALWAYS keep your portfolio up to date and your CV/Resume ready to go.
For the record, I have an Associate's Degree in Commercial Art and a Bachelor's degree in Art. I graduated with honors. I was one of only six finalists out of more than 1,500 qualified seniors for the university's President"s Medal award. HOWEVER, I had already been working in Advertising 7 full years before I went back to school to get my Bachelor's. After I graduated, I got an "attaboy" but no raise than I ever got before the degree. And after 25 years, almost to the day, I was finally downsized. Not because I didn't have a degree, or didn't have the skills or a great portfolio, but because the agency was sold and the new owner simply wanted to hire someone fresh out of school so he could pay less. Like I said, life is not fair, but I'm not whining about it. I just started a new career with another company as their Sr. Graphic Designer.
30+ years as a Graphic Designer, freelancing and with 25 years at a top 50 US Ad Agency