Loomis and Bridgman are great ways to learn the form and other various things concerning the figure. Those are probably the best books that I know of. Loomis is out of print, but you can download it in .pdf for free I believe. Just do a google search for it and you should find it. I don't remember the web address off the top of my head.
As you stated, actually going to a class helps immensely. I just recently started going twice a week and it has immensely impacted my work.
I wouldn't be too picky about pencils, though I would recommend a full set from 9H to 9B. The H's may very well never get used (as I only use them rarely), but the B's certainly will. Also, I would look into using charcoal. Vine charcoal and charcoal pencils (compressed charcoal) work great, especially on tinted paper, where you can put lights in with white chalk or pastel.
As far as a good sketching medium, whatever works. I know some fellow artists use simple newsprint for quick studies as it is cheap. I will swear by my Moleskine, regardless of what some people think of them. It is portable and the paper is heavy enough to be able to take some punishment. Again, I wouldn't worry too much about this one. Any paper will do, as you are just learning to start out. Obviously, if you are doing a finished piece, I would recommend something of higher quality. I have used Lennox 100 extensively and like it. Also, Bristol is good paper, as well as Rives BFK (I think that is what it is called?), but not for studies, as they are far too expensive.
Colleges that teach life drawing hire artist's models but they are usually trained or at least have a lot of experience. You need to be able to take specific direction or know instinctively what the art student's need. Most know about classic contraposto poses, foreshortened poses, etc. If you know all these things, get in touch with the professor who teaches the life drawing or anatomy courses and let them know you are available.