Well I think one value of the degree is you don't have to start at the very bottom. Especially graduating from a place like MIT and Stanford, you have no problems finding a job paying $130,000+ with no experience. Really from any old CS school you'll make at
least $55-60k. Microsoft and Google used to hire college grads directly (apparently not anymore due to economy), and six figure salaries are not unheard of. But really the higher level your education the more they often pay. MSCS is worth more then BSCS, PHD
is worth the most.
You can work your way up to a salary like this without a degree. Some places though, specifically list a requirement as a CS degree. It's possible to get around that I guess, but usually they mean it. You risk having HR throwing your Resume away in seconds.
My girlfriend used to work in recruiting, that's basically what they did (and surprisingly a A LOT of computer people lack CS degrees, so it's a really easy way to narrow down applicants).
The other option is to start your own company, but with all these big corporations around, it takes a lot of effort to be competitive, I think.
Whilst an MSc gives you a higher "lifetime earnings over money lost being in education" ratio than a BSc, a PhD doesn't. If you've got a PhD it means you can apply for more positions doing more specialist things in research, but it does not necessarily mean
you command a higher salary. Those RA and Postdoc positions pay significantly less than what an MSc would be earning if he went straight into industry. The only real way a PhD can earn a 6-figure salary is if they go into the financial sector and put their
qualiatative skills to use in enhacing some hedge fund.