I've written stories for InformIT about the best paying certifications that you might want to read. Visit www.informit.com, then search on "Tittel Big Certs" (they do dynamic addressing so searching is easier than providing the kind of temporary URLs that their site produces) for more information on the best-paying certs in IT right now.
As far as a degree goes, it's not absolutely essential but it will certainly help. Then, too, it's worth considering that while IT certs typically last only two or three years before they must be renewed or replaced, you get to keep any degrees you earn for the rest of your life. If you're just starting your working life, or considering a move into IT, keep your current job and/or go get your degree in something like computer science, MIS or IT. Not only will this help you figure out what you really want to do work-wise, it will also make you a more attractive job candidate.
This was first published in September 2002