Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Going To Cooking School And Going Broke

Well, it seems the culinary world is not immune from the troubles plaguing the rest of society. In this case, I'm talking about the crushing debts that culinary school students have to deal with after graduation in a profession that predominately features low paying jobs.

“The problem isn’t getting a job, the problem is getting a high-paying job,” according to Susan Sykes Hendee, a dean at Baltimore International College. With a two year program at a private culinary college costing upwards of $45,000 and low interest Federal loans often only available for little more than a quarter of that amount, these graduates are going to have a heck of a piper to pay at the end of their schooling.

Sometimes schools will encourage students to enroll no matter what their financial situation. The web site of one school, The San Diego Culinary Institute, entreats potential students this way:
We are committed to assisting those students that demonstrate a seriousness and a passion for this business in any way possible. In other words: convince us you are a future culinary star and we will do whatever we can to help you. Whatever your concerns about financing, the serious student should always contact us: don't give up before you call.

That sounds great, but the reality is that reaching star status in the cooking world is like catching lightning in a bottle. Taking on loans in the tens of thousands of dollars may not pay off in the long run.

Many times, students don't realize the implications that these huge loans will have on their future life and career choices. Every year this borrowing by college students is increasing by leaps and bounds. It's pretty hard to get ahead and save for the future, if you have to spend the first decade of your working life paying back student loans.

Maybe more schools should offer part-time programs. That combined with students delaying their entry into culinary school until they build up a bigger pile of cash could cut down on the loans needed. That still doesn't address the problem of low wages however.

Counselors at culinary schools should present realistic scenarios to students, and they and their families should decide together what the best plan is. In this, culinary school is not any different from other higher education pursuits. At least here a marketable skill is being taught. But again we're back to the fact it doesn't matter how marketable a degree is, if it doesn't lead to a well-paying job. There can be only so many Emeril Lagasses or Bobby Flays.


Anonymous said...

Not all schools are as you say - especially the San Diego Culinary Institute. As one of the Administrators for this school, I would like to make some points clear to you and your readers.

* SDCI is fully aware that not everyone can be a star. As such, SDCI does not simply accept applicants simply because they can pay tuition (or find a means to pay) and sign a contract. We accept applicants that are able to show us their passion AND potential for this art form.

* Because we require applicants to demonstrate their passion and potential in order to be accepted, we really get to know each and every one of these individuals that become a student. We take pride in being able to honestly say that we know each and every one of our students.

* SDCI's tuition is $21,960 for culinary arts and $18,065 for baking and pastry arts. These tuition amounts are all-inclusive of textbooks, uniforms, tools, and food costs in small class sizes with Chef Instructors that have no less than 5 years of executive chef experience. Over 80% of a student's time in class is spent doing hands-on learning.

Yes, that's a lot of money but here's a something to think about: If you are cooking something that asks for truffles, do you use grocery-store bought mushrooms or do you use truffle? Much of our tuition goes into our food costs - students learn using the finest ingredients to help them build a sense of confidence for when they enter the culinary industry.

Thank you for your time.

Sue Gordon said...

Thank you so much for your comment. I completely agree that fine culinary training is very costly. I just hope that incoming students are completely aware of the level of debt they may have to incur...AND what it will take to pay it off after they finish school.