It’s Top Chef season again. I’ll be making my friends some yummy food tonight while we watch the second episode. This season my favorite chef is Eugene, who worked his way up from his position as a dishwasher. The rest of the contestants went to fancy shmancy culinary schools.
Over at one of my other blog projects, The Internet Food Association, New America Foundation education policy wonk Ben Miller takes a look at whether culinary schools are actually worth their rather sizable price tag:
For those who don’t spend all day obsessed with higher education trade publications, cohort default rates measure how many student loan borrowers from a graduating class default on their debt within two years of graduation. The national average cohort default rate is right around 5 percent. A high cohort default rate generally indicates that students are having trouble finding jobs that helps them cover their debt. I say generally because the measure is far from perfect. For one, it only looks at what occurs two years out and not farther down the road, and two it is not perfectly correlated with school quality. (Those wanting to know more about the problems with cohort default rates can click here.)
The one good thing about cohort default rates is that the Department of Education publishes schools’ cohort default data right on its website. I pulled out every school with the word “culinary” in its name (none have chef or food), plus Baltimore International College and Johnson & Wales University, which also have culinary schools.
The results varied widely. The CIA was far and away the best of the large schools, recording a cohort default rate of around 2 percent each year in 2006, 2005, and 2004 (the most recent data due to the two-year measurement window). At the other end of the spectrum was Johnson & Wales and the JNA Institute of Culinary Arts. The former had over 7 percent of its 5,000-plus borrowers default, while the latter had 10 percent of its borrowers default in 2006 and 13 percent(!) default in 2005.
So the answer to the question is no, culinary school is probably not worth it. I see in the comments section that some are advocating for community colleges to step in for people who aren’t going to be top-tier chefs. The tuition at a community college is usually somewhere under $5,000 a year and gets you all the basic skills you might get at a more expensive for-profit institution.
Cross posted at Pushback.