Thursday, April 8, 2004

Help Me Out Here, Guys

I have a dilemma, with which I'd like to ask the help of all of you out there in journal land. 

I've been working in food service since I was eighteen years old...that's thirty years.  Like most people who work in restaurants their whole lives, my dream, since I was in my late twenties, has been to have my own place.   I'm particularly attracted to baking...I was the manager of a shopping mall store-front bakery for eight years back in the 80's/90's, and it was the best job I ever had in my life.  I have my concession trailer, now...that puts me about half-way to where I really want to be.  What I REALLY want is my own "premises", either a bake shop or a catering kitchen to work out high-end catering...make some REAL money at this--and do beautiful work that I can be proud of--instead of just messing around.

Here's the deal...we have in Portland, OR, one of the premier culinary schools in the nation--Western Culinary Institute.  They carry the internationally renowned "Le Cordon Bleu" curriculum.  I mean, this is heavy stuff in the culinary world.  They've recently added a "Patisserie and Baking" certificate program to their curriculum.  When I read about it, my eyes lit up.  I would LOVE to do this course and obtain this certificate.  It's a 36-week course, and then there's a six-week "externship" at some location across the country.  For me to want ANY kind of education this badly is truly unusual.  I have been keenly aware of my lack of formal training throughout my restaurant career, and, even at this late date, I would like to do it RIGHT.  And, I have always regretted never getting more than a high-school education.  I'm too smart for that, and I've known THAT for thirty years. 

So why not just GO for it?  Well, I called yesterday to get some information.  Chiefly, I wanted to know the tab for this course.  Okay, what would you think a class like this would cost?  $500?  $5000?   $10000?  Nope...the thing is....wait for's $20,920.  I very nearly swallowed my tongue when I saw that! 

I'm sorry, I come from the Land of "Cheap." Never buy the top of the line anything.  Always make do with the cheapest (whatever) you can get away with.  My parents were children of the Depression, and we've never been able to completely shake their parsimonious ways.  But, I'm not sure this is something I can afford to be cheap with.  This is my opportunity to get a REAL education in a field that I know I enjoy, and want to build something out of.  How much is an education like this worth?  I'm guess I'm not as afraid of spending the money, as I am of being ripped off.  I don't have the slightest idea what an education is worth in today's marketplace.  Let me also say that we don't have this kind of money just lying around...we'd have to take out a monstrous loan or try for some kind of financial aid.

Here are my questions for you all:  Have you been to college?  How long ago?  How much was the total tab?  Do you feel you got your money's worth out of it?  Do the intangible benefits of this kind of educational experience outweigh the financial benefits?  If you had an opportunity like this, would you go for it?  Should I go for it?

Any help/advice any of you can give me will be greatly appreciated. 


  1. Wow. This is a big one but one I feel you have to look at from several angles.
    1. Is it finacially feasible for your family right now.
    2. What kind of financial aid is available to you?
    3.If this is your passion will you regret not taking that chance?
    4. If I exchange writing for culinary arts and was asked if this opportunity came along would I go for it, at this stage in my life I would probably say: yes.
    5. Should you go for it: If after you have weighed everything realistically and can't come up with any way it would cause more problems than good: Then ABSOLUTELY.
    6. If this was what my heart was yearning for, I would try to find a way to do it by any means necessary. You don't want to look back on your life 36 weeks from now full of regret if you could have had your foot in the culinary door.
    Don't know if it helped but hope you make the best decision for you.~RC~

  2. See if the school will give you the names of some of its graduates.  Then, ask them if it was worth it.  If you spend this kind of money, how long will it take you to earn it back, break even so to speak.  Will your income increase $5,000 per year for four years...or 10,000 in one year.  You get the picture.  Does a degree from this school mean anything to anyone outside of the area?  Will it enable you to aske for 30% more on catering jobs?  Or will a person who walks into your store front care that the tasty dream they are putting in there mouth cost $20,000 to make?

  3. This is my third attempt at leaving a comment.  I think you should go for it.  I don't know about culinary schools, so I would do a little internet research on prices of comparable schools.  Look into financial aid.  If it will help you with your long term goals, I don't think you can go wrong.

  4. I know personally a staff member of Western Culinary Institute Joe Gonzales.  It is a great school and you will not be ripped off. Education is expensive. I work at Pacific University and college tuition runs about $10,000 to $20,000 per year.  I believe you owe it to yourself to Invest in yourself. GO FOR IT.  There is finacial assistance available especially being a woman.

  5. I am a tremendous believer in education, and professionally and personally, my experiences have shown me that education does not necessarily mean a bigger financial payoff later.  On the personal level, I live in the sticks, and the regional job market doesn't place a high value on my particular education background, so that has limited the financial opportunities.  On the professional side, I worked as a recruiter for about a decade.  What I saw there is that education does not create the beginning opportunities, but that it eliminates the barriers to advancement and higher level opportunities.  The intangible benefits of an education, though, are priceless. I feel that I am a better person for obtaining my BA (which I did the traditional way right ouf of high school) and I will one day complete my on-hold MA (which was done one or two classes at a time while working full time).  By better, I mean better than I was before, not better than another person.  The credentials from a top-flight culinary school, as well as the personal benefits, will definitely make it easier to market your business, gain professional contacts and establish a reputation as a serious professional.  On the other hand, it may not make a difference in the prices you are able to set for your products.  Once again there, the market rules.  After being incredibly long-winded in my response, my opinion is look very seriously at your finances, and if at all possible, GO FOR IT!

  6. One of my friends from High School is a top Chef in New York city - he also has cerebral palsy.  He got his culinary education from a community college instead of attending one the "NAME BRAND" schools.  I would check that out first.  Remember, Bill Gates is a millionare and you don't see no Harvard degree on his wall.

  7. After reading all the comments below, it seems to me that you're getting some very sound advice and I can add little to it.  Clearly, this is a life altering decision for you and your husband and not to be made lightly.  I would simply say this; if it is at all economically feasible and this is your true passion then you should by all means pursue it.  There are a number of opportunities available to you for financial aid through government agencies; I'd start an online search for Women/ small businesses/adult education.  The benefits of a higher education are indeed priceless.  I went back and finished my degree at the ripe old age of 34, and although I did not pursue a career it has opened my world in ways I could not have imagined.  :)

  8. I would do this, no doubt about it.  The fact you called to inquire is a big signal that you were serious before you found out about the price tag involved.  Believe this:  Educating yourself and investing in yourself is priceless!! GO FOR IT!!! Kristi

  9. I read your journal but rarely comment, if ever I have. But, this is right up my alley. I am 36 and will be graduating with my BS in Business Administration/Finance this Spring. I didn't start until I was 32. I had a counsellor at the JV level ask me if I needed my degree (I got my AS in Economics) for my job. Sounded to me like he was saying, what the heck are you doing here?

    My classmates and I joke that we have at the very least learned one thing these past 4 years and that's Opportunity Cost. What that means is what is the next best thing that you can do with your time, money, etc. Weigh the costs of this education against that. Hopefully, that will help you with your answer.

    I've been going to state schools so I'm not sure my entire education has cost me 20K but it has been a sacrifice. I've paid for it all out of pocket. But, even if it didn't do a darn thing for me career-wise, I think it was worth every penny and time sacrificed to achieve one of my goals. I definitely believe the intangible benefits of an education far out weigh the financial. I've learned sooo much, experienced soooo much more than I ever would have had I not gone to school.

    I do ask you this though. Is it going to school that is your dream, or to have your own place? There are many who open their own place without going to culinary school. Maybe the money would be better invested in your true dream of opening your own place. Look at what Martha Stewart amassed and her degree wasn't a culinary related one. ??? [Of course, please don't walk the same path she did completely ;-) ]

    Good Luck with your decision!!! :-) ---Robbie

  10. Wow, Lisa, could I come in any later? lol  I'll say that I do have a college degree, and I'm sure it cost plenty.  Still in debt over it. :-/  And you know that right now I'm unemployed. :::sigh:::  However, in spite of it all, I've never regretted my education for a second.  If anything, the experience was worth it.  I sometimes wish I'd chosen a different major, but that's different.  I am sure you'll research this, but I don't think you should pass up on doing something just because of fear.  Taking risks is what makes life interesting, ya know?