I had a hankerin’ to go work on boats since I was a little nipper. I started on spvs breaking every law known to man when I was 10. I skipped the academy route (not because I didn’t apply, but because apparently you have to have good grades in HS to get it!) I started working along side a freshly minted Maine guy. He always groused that he and I were the exact issue of why a Maritime education wasn’t required in the tug fleet. While I had been earning for 4 years he had been paying tuition for 4 years. I had a license, and he had a license. We both were mates. Making the exact same money. (still do as a matter of fact!) But, in partial answer to your post, You can have as good, or as brief as you want (as usual depending on your ambition and ability) either way you go.
The political issues aside, you will always hear. The deep sea guys crow about how they are the ‘true mariners’. And they and they alone are (or should be) grovelled to, and glad handed for their contribution to the industry. And you will hear the small boat licenses crow about how only they know how to ‘shiphandle’ because they do it every day.
There is both merit and BS to both sides of the argument. In my (not so) humble opinion there are good and bad in both sides of the argument. I have met some fine examples from each side of the argument and some outstanding examples of fucking assholes from both sides. It’s not so much what ‘we all’ think as much as what YOU want to (and have the ability) to do that will determine your career direction.