The Orlando Sentinel: Let working adults pursue their dreams

The Orlando Sentinel

January 7, 2011
By Klaus Friedenreich | Guest columnist

Would you get up early enough to take a college class that begins at 7:15 a.m.?

You might if you hope to start a culinary career and aspire to someday become a chef, a professional baker or a pastry maker.

Perhaps you're already working in food service, and you're seeking the skills and credentials that can help you work your way up the culinary ladder. Or you're employed in a different sector, but you're a "foodie" at heart and want to start a second career before it's too late.

Such descriptions apply to many students in our introductory cooking class at the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Orlando. Many wake up before daybreak to do my demanding classwork — from filleting fish to boning chickens — after working late the night before at the jobs that put food on their tables at home.

These hardworking, dedicated adult learners should have been on the minds of U.S. Department of Education officials when they proposed a set of rules targeting career-college students. Among them is the gainful-employment rule, which could limit federal financial assistance to only those students who are trained in jobs lucrative enough to allow them to pay back their loans. Complex and unfair debt-to-earnings measures would be used to determine eligibility.In short, the rule would limit students' access to quality programs, such as ours, in which they'll learn important skills as they prepare to work their way up from typically low starting salaries. It would even penalize students for using loan-management programs that have been approved by Congress.
I'm not a professional educator, much less a federal policy maker. But I am a certified master chef with more than 40 years in the industry, including almost three decades in the Orlando area. I was part of the opening team at The Walt Disney World Resort, developing the original menu at Disney's Contemporary Resort.

I also ran my own restaurant, captained a U.S. culinary Olympic team, worked for a major airline and taught at other institutions before joining the Le Cordon Bleu faculty.

As such, I know how valuable training and credentialing can be for aspiring culinary professionals. I know how culinary graduates are in demand throughout the industry, even in hard times.

The education department should make it easier, not more difficult, for aspiring culinary professionals to climb the ladder of success.

Career colleges, such as ours, meet the needs of students whom traditional nonprofit private colleges, state universities and community colleges often overlook. Most career-college students are older than those at traditional colleges and universities.

By my reckoning, at our institution, about one-third work full-time while attending our culinary courses — pretty typical in most career colleges across the country.

Many are from low-income households and are the first in their families to go to college. Some have also served in the military. At Le Cordon Bleu in Orlando, 28 percent of our students are Hispanic, and 13 percent are African-American.

From my contacts in the culinary, hospitality and resort industries throughout our state and nation, I know that employers respect our graduates' skills and work habits. This is one of the reasons why a high percentage of our graduates has been successful in finding jobs in the culinary industry.

Our students keep their eyes on the prize: certificates and degrees in culinary arts, patisserie and baking. Yet if the federal government's gainful-employment rule comes to pass, many of our students will have their dreams of a career in the kitchen dashed.

Take it from a master chef: Making it even more difficult for working adults to follow their dreams is a recipe for disaster.

Klaus Friedenreich is an instructor at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Orlando.

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