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Le Cordon Bleu And You - Kang vs. Kodos
Jan 212011

The Le Cordon Bleu Institute of Culinary Arts in Pittsburgh is closing next year. Normally, this wouldn’t really phase me much, as I don’t have any interest in attending culinary school. I like to cook, but I’m more of a weekend warrior in that regard. I am, however, generally interested in local Pittsburgh news, so I read the Post-Gazette’s analysis of the closing.

Pretty standard fare, until you get to the bottom, which caused all of my hair to promptly fall out.

“As a for-profit institution, CEC has faced increasing pressure from the Obama administration and Senate Democrats in the past year. A proposed “gainful employment” rule from the Department of Education would deny federal funding to schools with graduates facing high proportions of debt related to their expected salaries. In 2010 a two-year associate’s degree from Pittsburgh’s Le Cordon Bleu cost $42,660. According to financial aid data for the 2008-09 school year, 47 percent of all students received federal student loans, worth more than $6.5 million to the school. Mr. Miller cited the “gainful employment” rule as a major factor in CEC’s decision to close the Pittsburgh school, and he predicted that it would soon affect other for-profit schools in the area.”

Let that sink in a moment. The school is closing because of pressure directly from the Obama administration.

Mind you, this is supposedly a highly regarded school, producing graduates who are in demand around the country. A brief Google search of “Le Cordon Bleu, Pittsburgh” returns scads of news articles from around the country about new, hot restaurants whose owners and chefs hail from Le Cordon Bleu.

Graduates of culinary schools don’t make a lot of money. That’s because chefs, pastry chefs, and their ilk don’t make a lot of money. You have to work grueling hours for pittance before you can climb your way out of the bottom of the ranks in a restaurant. Being a chef is difficult. Getting to the point where you are a head chef, or where you own your own restaurant, is very difficult and takes many years. Even when you do reach that point, restaurants fail all the time. Reaching a year is considered a major milestone. The restaurant business is not for the weak.

Surely we can give the students the benefit of the doubt that they understand this. That they know how much they are going to have to work, how little money they will make, and how difficult and uncertain their success will be when they make the decision to attend a culinary school. That they are doing this in spite of those challenges, because their desire to work with food, to follow their passion, is that great.

But because the Obama administration has made an arbitrary decision that no one should be permitted to take the risk of that amount of debt when the resulting employment does not produce millionaires, Le Cordon Bleu is closing.

I am angry about this, for two reasons.

First of all, since when does the government have any business deciding what debt we are and are not allowed to take on? That is a personal decision. If a student wants to go to culinary school, and wants to take on debt in order to fund it, that is his decision, not Mr. Obama’s or anybody else’s. It is frightening that the government can take aim at a private enterprise and strong arm it into closing because it does not approve of it. I understand that Obama and his ilk did not ‘intend’ for Le Cordon Bleu to close, but that is the result. Results matter far more than intentions.

Secondly, what’s next? Culinary school is essentially a trade school. You don’t go to college to become a chef, just like you don’t go to college to become an electrician. Most trade schools are also for-profit. Electricians, plumbers, and auto mechanics can do well for themselves, certainly better than if they hadn’t gone to school at all, but unless they build a very large, successful business, they probably won’t ever be wealthy. Do graduates of trade schools not make enough money in Obama’s estimation to deserve to get that training? Who is he to decide that?

Surely, we can agree that there are a lot of people who are shuffled into community colleges and low level state schools who shouldn’t have wasted their time and money in the first place. Surely taking on $20,000 in debt and getting training in a trade is better than taking on $20,000 in debt and dropping out of IUP after two years. At least the graduate of the trade school has some marketable skills that will garner him better money than the IUP dropout.

If this trend continues, will there be any trade schools left? Where will aspiring chefs, electricians and plumbers get their training? Will the sudden decrease in skilled labor in these fields cause the salaries to skyrocket for those who were lucky enough to get trained before Obama came to power? That will cost all of us. Restaurant meals will become more expensive, as will having our homes rewired and our plumbing fixed. We can do without restaurant meals, but what if we stop having our homes rewired? Fires will result. How long can you tolerate living with a backed up toilet or broken water main? How much can you afford to pay for that?

Who is this president, and what makes him think that he has the power to meddle in this market? What makes him think that his intentions matter more than the results? The government has no business doing this kind of meddling.