What is Culinary School worth?

I came across this story the other day:

SAN FRANCISCO — Cameron Cuisinier’s dreams of a catering career led him to culinary school. Now he’s unemployed and $43,000 in debt, and he’s not alone.

From TV chefs to reality shows where the winners get their own restaurants, it’s a hot time to be in the kitchen. Record numbers of would-be chefs are enrolling in culinary schools, some of which charge $20,000 a year or more.

At first glance, the obvious question that popped into my mind was “Are culinary schools worth it?”

But upon reflection, the value of the education that these schools provide is only one part of the education. The worth of anything is determined by the consumer of the product or service. The seller in turn only puts out a price that they know they can get. When taking this thought into account, my question then turned into “Do the students and graduates of these schools know what they are getting into?”

When investing in education, I was told to take into account how much I could expect in return, once I left school. Of course I majored in communications and ended up working in the software/aerospace industry, so what the hell do I know.

Still, I’m wondering what some of these students are thinking. If are aspiring to be head cooks or chefs, the numbers still aren’t in their favor. From the article:

The number of food service jobs in America rose from 9.9 million in 2001 to 10.8 million in 2005, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. But a small fraction of those jobs – roughly 115,000 – are for chefs or head cooks, and that number did not change significantly during the five-year span.

That’s a one to one hundred ratio, for those of you working that out in your head.

This aspect doesn’t even take into account the moderate to low wages, the long hours, and in some instances the lack of benefits. It’s a tough gig, no matter how you slice it.

I’m not going to sit here and say “Culinary schools aren’t worth the money”, because clearly there are some who have benefited from these types of institutions. But I do ask “Are these places selling a lifestyle that is difficult to attain?” The folks I have met who attended various acting and music schools and programs were all told to expect little in the way of financial benefits from their chosen crafts. Do these culinary schools effectively communicate this reality to their respective students?

As a side note, I have found that several of the chefs I have talked with over the past few years have gotten where they are through mentoring and apprenticeship, a practice that Shuna over at Eggbeater highly advocates. Is this a better way to break into the industry, or simply a cheaper alternative?
Technorati Tags: Culinary Schools, Chefs, Cooks

So my question to you restaurant folk is this – Would you recommend culinary school to someone? If so, why?

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