Hey Wallflower, I will try to answer as best as I can.
How much is cooking school? NECI works out to about $60,000 for the two year program, everything else in the country costs less. I'd bet that you could find a community cooking school for closer to $10k. Add in government grants, depending on your income, and you may be able to go for next to nothing.
As for needing any sort of degree, I think that most places only require high school. For advanced placement, you may need college, and definately need experience. So, to answer the question, you can get in with zero college.
Before you go to any school, get a job in a restaurant, ANY restaurant will do. If you have no experience, apply for a position as a dishwasher. Prove you can work hard there, and they may let you peel potatoes. If you can peel potatoes properly and quickly, they might let you cut other vegetables. Now that you can peel a potato and chop a pepper, do not expect to be relieved of dish duty.
If you work harder than any other dishwasher at a restaurant, you will get your work done sooner, and then have 'free time' to prove that you can do kitchen work.
Try this for a few months BEFORE going to cooking school. This business is definately not for everyone, and a love of cooking is just a small part of what makes any of us successful in the industry. You need to love tension, pressure, extreme heat and cold, working through physical pain (no you may NOT stop cooking to apply burn cream), and so on. Don't get me wrong, I do not love cuts and burns, but like 99.9% of the old school chefs here, they need to be pretty painful and/or messy to stop get me off the line. Maybe its a macho thing. (Not male macho... I've worked with monster line cooks that thrived on pain and pressure, and happened to be female... If you ever come to ChefTalk, I'm talking about you, Regatta Betsie. NICE oven Tatts!!!.)
Anyway, my advice in a nutshell is to try it for six months first. Kick the tires and make sure you know what you are getting into. Then, I highly suggest going online and looking for a school that meets your needs.
Will work for a bed and shower... I want to find a place to live that isn't Vermont. I am interested in seeing a few sites.