I know of college grads that are making $12 hr, 20 years out of college. I was married to one. She went back to get her masters degree in an affiliated field. She'll be 50 with 70K in college debt, still not able to work unsupervised until 3000hrs of supervised work are done. I hope it works out for her.
Education is a door opener in many jobs. It can be background noise in others.
The great thing about starting HVAC late in life is the experience you've had outside of HVAC. All of my current co-workers are over 35 in the commercial company I'm with now.
Wow, past my bed time.