Wow, quite the thread. I could heat my home using this.
My thought on the matter is that
knowledge = education + experience.
The education is what you get from either school or apprenticeships or just paying attention to what's going on around you. A degree is simply one way of quantifying that education. However, all it means is that the student was good at passing tests, not that they can actually do it.
The experience is putting that education into practice. You can have all the education in the world, but if you haven't actually done it then you don't know squat. That's probably why culinary schools all seem to incorporate a "hands on" sessions, apprenticeship, externship, internship, whatever. However, experience is variable. Does the person have 10 years experience, or just one years experience repeated 10 times. Hard to judge without trusted references, hence the need for someone going the experience route to work with respected chefs whose opinions are trusted by others.
I note that it's only in the USA that you can get a "bachelors degree" in culinary arts. It also seems to be only US institutions who "require" a bachelors degree for jobs. Protectionism? Probably. The US schools are the most expensive in the world, (see http://www.dnrc.co.uk/culinary_training.htm
for details that I've found. Corrections welcome.), so I guess they have to market their graduates to the hilt, and that includes convincing the people who hire that a degree is actually worth something. While it's definitely true in the engineering and medical fields (both of which, you'll note, have "practical experience" requirements before you can be certified in those fields) I'm still trying to figure out if ths is really the case in the culinary world.
In France you start with a two year basic college course (C.A.P.)then go learn on-the-job in a structured apprenticeship program. Then you might go back to school to do more advanced work, eventually formalising all the business and management you've learned on-the-job so that you can operate your own kitchen. As I've found the generic French mid-range restaurant generally have much better food than the generic American mid-range restaurant, it's a system that seems to work. It's very hard to move up "quickly" though, hence the influx of european trained chefs out of Europe.
I see it as a question of attitude towards food. The worst food I've had, regardless of location, is from places that think that food is just to feed the body. In the best restaurants I've been to the attitude is that food feeds the soul.
Just my two pence worth.