YES, I AM A college dropout and successful mechanical contracting project manager and senior estimator. Yes, I do regret not taking the time out from my career to finish my degree. And, no, if you are at any point in your PM career other than within spitting distance of retirement, not having or finishing your college degree is not an option. Not if you want to achieve maximum career earning potential and success.
Yes, I do intend to finish my degree, even though I'm getting close enough to the top of the hill to begin to see my career's eventual horizon.
There are still chances for a smart, sharp, attentive, ambitious, dedicated young people with just a high school diploma (though the chances for anyone becoming successful in this industry with less than a high school education are virtually zero now) to work their way up from the field ranks. Such people can work themselves into low-level back-office jobs and then into a lower-level preconstruction PM-team position. Then, after many years of having to prove themselves 10 times smarter and harder working than their peers, maybe, maybe they have a shot to become a PM. The chances, however, of someone actually being able to follow this career avenue decrease with each passing year. This world is becoming ultra-competitive on a global scale and the American mechanical contracting industry is not immune to this fact.
Don't think you'll need a college degree in the future because only a percentage of your colleagues have them? Do you think that globalization isn't a threat to your job since all construction is local? That's what many other American industries thought, too, before they had the stuffing beaten out of them by competitors half a world away.
Don't think you'll need a college degree to be able to keep your job, or by the time you need one you'll be about ready to retire anyway? Ask the poor slobs in other American industries such as IT, manufacturing or engineering, competing with highly motivated individuals with heads full of technical knowledge and walls plastered with graduate-level and postdoc degrees. Not only did they become a threat, but in the end they stole the very jobs Americans used to have. We refused to recognize that in this new world economic order that capital, the business of business, flows to whomever can do the job more cheaply and, more importantly, provide more value.
Even if your next major direct major competitor doesn't come from China, India or France, you're still going to have to compete with others within the industry who are every bit as smart and as qualified as you are.
Used to be, project management wasn't "cool." No one outside our peculiar profession had ever really heard of it and few young people ever thought about getting into it. We got into and stayed in this business because we loved it.
Now, "project management" is, all of a sudden, the latest paradigm, a way-cool catchall term that sometimes actually means the process of managing projects or processes. Because it's the "in-profession" to be in, boy, are the wannabes coming out of the woodwork!
Unfortunately, for some in the industry, these wannabes, who tend to have degrees in business or accounting or such, and who, while knowing little about our fields, quickly embed themselves within a company's hide. While they might not know a gate valve from a globe valve, they do know how to put in the hours and make the numbers work. It's these characters, the next new generation of PMs who want to be PMs because they see it through outsiders' eyes, who are and will be your competition.
In order to compete with them, you're going to have to have your credentials framed on the wall just to be able to run on the same track.
So, the choice is yours ... strongly consider finishing your degree or, equally strongly, consider going back into the ranks of the field guys from whence you came.