I have lots of degrees. My masters degree is signed by Arnold Schwarzenegger, I went to a California State University, so my degree is signed by the Governor. If Arnold says I'm a Master, who's gonna argue? I also have a BA in Political Science. In between those 2 I went to the California Culinary Academy (CCA) where I had an AA and a great education, worked with wonderful chef/instructors, and peer students. While I was a student I had lots of gripes about how the school was administered, I felt that it was something of a diploma factory, in that you didn't really need to learn much in order to get through school, but if you were motivated it could be a tremendous resource. The institution raised their prices during my program, and I heard from others that they experienced the same thing. (you'd get quoted one price before you started, then 1/2 way through were told that in order to complete the program and get a diploma, you'd have to pay more) Despite their common claim that their customers were the restaurant industry and the employers in the industry, and the product they developed was culinary graduates, I felt that since I was paying 10's of thousands of dollars to be there, the customers were the students, and the product was a well developed skill set that we could sell in the job market. I rarely felt that I was treated as a valuable customer so much as a replaceable raw material. I always had a sense that the chef/instructors were a skilled, hard working bunch of folks with a lot to offer and they they often felt taken advantage of and pressed to accept sub-standard work from students so that they'd keep paying their bills.
Several years after I left the CCA it was purchased by the Career Education Corporation (CEC) and from what I have heard and read it went from being a place that would accept anyone who could pay the tuition (it was about $18k when I started, around $22k when I finished) to a place that actually misled students who couldn't afford to pay about the job market in order to get them to sign student loans that they'd have trouble servicing with the entry level positions that are available to new culinary grads.
This morning on the Seattle Weekly Blog I read a post about Career Education Corporation opening a branch in the Seattle area. While the concept of a kitchen trade school is a good one I'm afraid that CEC isn't an organization that I'd applaud as "serving our community".
Whenever I interview new kitchen staff, which I've been doing quite a bit this last week or two, I try my best to impress on them how difficult the work is, how low paid it is, how the service staff tends to be better paid, work shorter hours and how difficult it is to get out of this industry once you've spent a few years with nothing but kitchen work on your resume. It's pretty rare for me to be successful at talking someone out of wanting the job. Too many people can't get any work at all, so anything is better than nothing. Many people, like me, dream of this type of work, refuse to work at retail, or feel that the idea of spending hours a day in a cubicle is little better than spending a weekend at Oz rooming with Vern Schillinger.
This is my response that I posted on the Seattle Weekly blog today. It extensively quotes an SF Weekly article about CEC. I hope that people who really want to learn about the industry get a decent job working with a fair boss who will teach them, or enroll in a community college program, like Seattle Central. I also hope that I can be that type of boss...