I have a masters but I paid for that masters and took a year off just to turn what I already knew in to an official qualification. I'm basically self taught and I'm amazed that others wouldn't want to improve their lot similarly.
My employer is very much one of those who don't interact with the community. As was my previous employer. So I work around that. I have released fixes to OSS products under pseudonyms before now. I take days off for conferences as vacation and pay my own way.
I was flabberghasted when I started talking to colleagues at my previous employer. There seems to be a generation who went in to IT because it pays well and not because of any love of the industry. They work 9 to 5.30 and I know of some who don't even have computers at home!
I need to be involved. To me, Google, IRC, Web Forums are all tools to help you improve yourself and your work.