The traditional path to an associate (two-year) degree in almost anything is through the local community college, and basic culinary training is no different. However, there are more expensive options that also offer a certain cachet that can be handy when it’s time to find a job. Would-be students will need to weigh the prestige of world-class schools, such as Le Cordon Bleu and The Arts Institutes, against the cost-saving factors offered at their local community colleges.
The most expensive schools are usually–not always–the ones most likely to yield a better-paying entry-level job, particularly if combined with some work experience. Associate degrees from such schools run from $40,000 to $50,000, according to CollegeSurfing. Degrees offered include not only culinary basics but specialties such as pastry, catering, hospitality, restaurant management and baking. CollegeSurfing recommends that no one pay more than $50,000 for an associate degree in culinary arts.
The average cost per credit to take classes at a community college may be as low as $80, according to CollegeSurfing, so a two-year degree could be obtained for as little as $5,000, not including books and supplies. According to the American Association of Community Colleges, average annual tuition was $2,361, as of 2008. Many community colleges even offer specialty degrees, such as pastry and catering.
Learn-while-you-earn programs may be ideal for the student with limited means and a penchant for hands-on learning. Apprenticeship programs are a combination of paid work and classroom instruction. According to American Culinary Federation, formal apprenticeships are available in most states. In addition to fulfilling the requirements for classroom instruction and time on the job, students must pass a written examination for whatever level of certification they seek.
A number of community colleges, universities and culinary schools offer courses online. The cost per credit for these is generally in keeping with the school’s overall tuition cost and even the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu offers associate degrees online. While costing more or less the same in tuition, online education offers savings in books, commuting and the expenses of living in costly urban centers. It also opens doors for people with day jobs or who are home with children.
Cost to Benefit
According to the Careers Through Culinary Arts Program, your choice of schools will depend heavily on what you want to do with your career, weighed against costs and benefits. Does your school give credit for work experience? How successful are its graduates? Does its program include internships so that you can get hands-on training? What is the total cost of the program when area housing and food is factored in? If you plan to build later on your associate degree and get a bachelor’s or even a master’s degree, then make sure the credits for the program you choose will transfer to a four-year institution. It might be worthwhile to pay a little more to keep your options open.