With a bit more than 2 years in B&W experience total (just starting out at 53), I can't imagine using a lab for learning about B&W anything at this point. There are so many differing materials, techniques and methods which can go into a good print that a lab really isn't the best way to go for personal understanding.

While costs do seem prohibitive at first, Sergio's comment about the used market is true. People are dumping labs full of equipment to go digital and are giving away excellent high end systems for absurdly cheap prices. Can you afford and justify the cost in time, both in learning and production? To me that is the single most important issue about B&W. The money involved isn't that great, but the commitment in terms of time and quality of output can't be paid for with plastic, it must be earned in terms of discipline, work and evaluation. If you're working against a deadline, it imposes a variable which can work against a fine print.

My input is to get some used equipment, set up a darkroom, take the time required to learn and don't try to make a living at it until either you retire or can afford to make the mistakes. B&W has been one of the most rewarding learning experience of my life, but I'm glad I have a regular job to pay for it. tim