The Culinary For-Profit School Debate Continues: Now With SolutionsAdviser | Friday, March 18th, 2011 | 4 Comments »
The debate on whether culinary school is “worth it,” a “rip off,” or is a “scam” in this recent NPR article continues as the Department of Education is considering reform on federal funding options that could cripple for the for-profit education industry. Andrew Zimmern weighed in on the NPR article that ran on March 15th as well as Clare Leschin-Hoar of Slashfood amongst other blogs and websites. While the focus is on the for-profit schools like Le Cordon Bleu, solutions besides federal involvement to this issue are not being discussed. Discouraging those that are realistic and passionate about a career in the culinary arts need to be aware of options that already exist.
To address the issue of return-on-investment, culinary schools that offer a degree program could simply offer a certificate only. In fact, Le Cordon Bleu already offers this program. The 9 month program costs approximately $20,000 and classes run from 6:30 PM-11:05 PM according to representatives I spoke to. Not considering grants and the interest rate on federal or private loans, that investment is manageable to pay back on a cook’s wage. If the student has a previous Bachelor’s degree and is a career changer, they don’t necessarily need an extra Associate’s Degree. If the student is right out of high school and earn the certificate, they can always complete an Associate’s or Bachelor’s Degree in a related or unrelated field.
Revenue may decrease for the companies and the investors but they could create a financially viable investment for students.
Another option is one that is rarely discussed by the mainstream media: community college. Having visited and talked to the administration and students at two schools in Illinois (Washburne Culinary Institute and Elgin Community College), I can confidently say that the quality of education and facilities are on par with other for-profit culinary schools I was employed for or have visited. Washburne’s Culinary Arts Associate’s Degree is comparable in price to certificates from Le Cordon Bleu, Kendall College, and Art Institute in Chicago. You can find your state’s culinary school options accredited through the American Culinary Federation, which is not a requirement for a culinary school to have, at www.acfchefs.org.
Finally, there’s the apprenticeship or work option. Many industry professionals and educators, such as Kendall College’s Chris Koetke did not attend culinary school. However, he does have a Bachelor’s Degree from Valparaiso in French Literature and an MBA from Dominican University. He started cooking at as a teenager and worked his way up from there with drive, intensity, intelligence, and perseverance. This approach would be difficult for someone considering a career change at 30, has children, a mortgage, and previous student loans, but this is an option for any teenager needing a part-time job whether they are considering a culinary education or not.
While I believe unethical practices should not be tolerated, for-profit schools can provide viable education options that keep them profitable while not sending their students and graduates into a lifetime of debt. At the same time, it is up to the customers (the students) to thoroughly research their options before making a decision that could cost them their future.