Tuesday, May 8, 2007

How is Culinary School Like Film School?

I've often wondered how recent graduates of culinary schools make ends meet. You pay something like $60,000 to go to culinary school and graduate to a physically demanding job making $10.50 an hour (and it's invariably on the night-shift, to boot). According to today's New York Times, the answer is simple -- they don't make ends meet. Culinary school grads -- their numbers ever ballooning thanks to the celebrity chef phenomenon and the Food Network -- are defaulting on student loans at a rate of 11%, more than twice the national average:

Although the restaurant industry is expected to create two million new jobs in the next decade, the Department of Labor reports that in 2005, the latest year for which data were available, the average hourly wage for a restaurant cook was $9.86.

“The problem isn’t getting a job, the problem is getting a high-paying job,” said Susan Sykes Hendee, a dean at Baltimore International College and a member of the American Culinary Federation Foundation Accrediting Commission, which accredits many culinary schools...

Many culinary students come from blue-collar families and do not have the financial experience to navigate the world of college costs, Ms. Sykes Hendee said. “The majority of students are the first people going to college in their families,” she said. “It’s not the rich and famous going to culinary school.”

Once I got my haircut at a fancy barbershop in Los Angeles, and the woman cutting it had gone to some high-end cosmetology institute. She said she owed more than $20,000 from that experience. In her words, "That's a lot of $10 haircuts." I tipped her well.

As a film school graduate, I can sympathize with people swimming in debt with no real prospects of getting out, short of exceptional professional success. It can make you feel hopeless. I'd tell anyone considering going to film school to work on a few movie sets to make sure they enjoy it. Then I'd ask how they are at real politik, since that's the most important skill necessary to earn a living in the film industry. Then I'd tell them that it is the equivalent of going to a $100,000 trade school to learn a trade that nobody really needs. You're not learning something useful, like how to perform ligament transfer surgery, or how to probate a will. People actually need someone who knows how to do those things, and there's no (legal) way to learn how without going to medical school or law school. Anybody can make a film, even a good one. In other words, when you get out of medical school or law school and you pass your board exams, you are a doctor or a lawyer, and you have the marketable skills necessary to pay back $130,000 worth of student loan debt. When you get out of film school, you are merely unemployed and in debt. You might be a filmmaker, but then again, you might have been one before you started school.

Since my experience only applies in an analogous way, I recommend that anybody considering culinary school read David Lebovitz' fine post on the subject.

(Thanks to Apronite Kiki for the link. Kiki!)


Max said...

Sounds a lot like journalism school, too

Kiki said...

Also: sounds like graduate school for creative writing...