Getting Burned by Culinary School.

Are culinary schools selling a fantasy?
That’s the question being asked by students who are graduating with loans to repay and job prospects that offer little more than minimum wage for often menial kitchen work. It’s also the question being asked by lawsuits filed on their behalf.

Last week a $40 million settlement was reached in one of the lawsuits.
Allison Amador et al. v. California Culinary Academy is a class-action lawsuit representing 8,500 former CCA students. The suit claims that the school misrepresented itself and the value of its degree. The settlement offers tuition rebates and student loan forgiveness for the grads, without an admission of wrong-doing on the part of the school.

The students were recruited by admissions officers who used the high-pressure tactics of a used car lot to fill their classrooms. CCA did in fact treat its staffers like salesmen, with quotas, commissions, and finders’ fees—no-no’s in education, and possibly even violations of federal law. Touting the school’s supposed selectivity and standing in the culinary community, the staffers pointed to celebrity and television chefs on its roster of graduates to hook starry-eyed recruits. Claiming a 97% placement rate—twice the documented rate—they encouraged applicants to pile on student loans to pay for the nearly $50,000, 15-month program.

CCA did have a distinguished reputation for turning out many of the passionate and creative culinary professionals that made the Bay Area a top dining destination. But all that changed in 1999 when the school was bought by the for-profit Career Education Corporation. In its first two years of ownership, the company quadrupled the number of students enrolled, increasing class sizes and cutting kitchen hours. Admissions standards and education quality dropped while tuition continued to rise. And CCA is not the only one. Le Cordon Bleu in Pasadena, Western Culinary Institute in Portland, the Texas Culinary Academy, and at least a half a dozen other cooking schools are facing similar lawsuits.

The business model doesn’t work.
A year’s tuition at a culinary school like CCA is nearly $50,0000. Most graduates land low-paying jobs as baristas, dishwashers, and prep cooks. Do the math: those student loans won’t be repaid for a long, long time.

Get a dose of reality: peruse the StarChef survey of culinary professional salaries.


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3 Responses to Getting Burned by Culinary School.

  1. Janice says:

    To David Jones,

    Thank you for sharing your experience with WCI.
    There will continue to be stories like yours until the federal loan pipeline is shut down.
    I hope that your credit rating has recovered and that you’ve found other outlets for your passion for cooking.

  2. david jones says:

    After successfully enrolling in Western Culinary Institute in 1987 and being handed a high interest rate, federally guaranteed student loan I soon realized I had been had. Far from the inclusive chef training and restaurant management experience touted in their sales shpiel I found myself with a nice knife set and no prospects for anything other than an entry level minimum wage job. Queries made to other graduates all had the same theme; deep debt–no high paying chef job. No help with job placement. I withdrew after 6 weeks to cut my losses and went back to construction. I was too broke to sue WCI when they billed and rec’d federal loantuition funds for a 2nd semester after I withdrew at the beginning of the first. These private cooking schools are getting away with some major fraud. My credit 2as damaged when i refused to pay a loan for a second semester. My calls were not returned and they told me to stop calling them. Please do yourselves a favor and just apprentice in a kitchem rather than enroll and go deeply in debt for a near worthless certificate.

  3. mijoka says:

    the CCA was allready a fraud before it was taken over by CEC , the culmination was under a ceo named Keith Keogh litlle fat guy full of arrogance and pretention , his only achievement were medal at contest but was unable to flip a pan of spinash ,in a restaurant “the students of the CCA are better qualify to define him” they still laugh about him under his guidance the Motto was give the students a b , Students are Happy , counselor leave you alone , Dean is Happy , I am happy , the Board is happy and the share holder make money who care what they do after graduation , when ethic take a back seat you cannot have quality education , all the short cut possible were taken , increase the students classes to an unmanageable size , then the CEC bought it not pushing education even further backward , priority was to make money .
    I am desappointed the Attorneys settle the class action law suit there are thousands of students out there with shatter dream and broken finances .

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