In 2004, I made a decision to attend the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago (CHIC) to enter their culinary program. I was 53 years old and decided to change careers after 23 years in Information Technology.
Initially, I was led to believe that the school was independently run and self-managed. It later turned out that Career Education Corporation (CEC) was overseeing their day to day operation.
In my initial conversations with the recruiter at CHIC, I expressed serious concerns about getting in to this program because 1) of my age and being able to successfully pursue a career in culinary; 2) being able to obtain adequate employment upon graduation, whether my age was a detriment; 3) getting the entire cost of the program up front and know how much the available grants would be covering; 4) I had disclosed to the school that I had undergone quadruple heart bypass in Aug of 2000, which was a concern about my physical commitment in the program.
During my first few months into the program, I noticed that approx 95% of the students were under 25. Once again, I was reassured by the recruiter that there were many other students much older than me taking the program and that the degree would speak for itself once I completed the entire program. I was also told that once I graduated, I would be able to obtain employment as chef or sous chef and that most of the physical demands would be undertaken by the kitchen help. Misrepresentations #1.
Whenever I would inquire about my costs, no one would adequately answer any questions regarding my financial aid status and the available grants. I was always being told Don't worry, everything is going along just fine' and being reassured that there were enough government and private grants that would be available that would cover a majority of the costs. I was also told that whatever loan amount remaining after the grants would be at a very low interest rate since it was a government loan. It turned out that the grants only covered less than 6% of the total cost of the program, which turned out to be over $43,000. Even after a loan consolidation through SallieMae, it turned out that the interest on the loan would exceed 11%. Misrepresentations #2.
As part of completing the culinary program in May, 2005, I had to obtain an externship at a Chicago restaurant as a requirement for passing the curriculum. During this externship, I had to undergo the most physically challenging work I had ever known. I was nothing more than a kitchen helper, and at times, even lower. Despite divulging my medical history, I had to sustain this pace for 3 months and was not given any other options from the school.
Since completing the program, I have not been able to obtain any chef or assistant chef positions. I was constantly being told that the degree was worthless and not enough to obtain a higher level kitchen position, and at best I could only get a kitchen helper job, but my age and health was a significant drawback, not only for working, but also for insurance purposes, since the average age of most kitchen employees is between 18-25. Misrepresentations #3.
I have recently relocated to California and have continued to search for work in the culinary field. A few weeks ago during an interview, the hiring Chef indicated that my chances of obtaining work solely on the degree are slim to none. He said the degree means virtually nothing in relation to basic cooking skills and experience. He also asked why the school didn't see the age concern, and mostly my health issues. He stated that the school wasn't totally honest in misrepresenting the employment prospects and should not even have considered me into the program due to my surgery.
I now have over $45,000 in student loans as a result of taking the program at CHIC and virtually no way to pay for it. I feel I am in this predicament because CEC totally misrepresented to students a) tuition costs and how much grants are really available b) the likelihood that after taking a $40,000 program, a student would be able to find a chef job upon graduation, c) falsely stating that age would not be a factor in obtaining employment and d) not taking my health issue into consideration when the initial application process was underway.