How The California Culinary Academy (& other for profit colleges) Prey on America’s Youth & Why We Should Stop Them
Matt Gratz, Political Fail Blog
The American dream is a phrase that once meant an individual could work hard, get an education, and earn an income that allows for a happy & healthy life. The phrase today can still mean these things, just not to everyone. There are a few who can afford college and there are many who must borrow money for their education. Our civilization is at a point where we need to make a decision about how we want to live in these bodies while we have them. Should we create an economy/way of life dependent on every young person owing tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars to banks just for the chance at a head start in their career? Or should education be a service that we provide to each other because an educated population benefits all mankind and betters our society?
In recent years I have noticed a huge rise is the number of online colleges and occupational studies schools. I see more and more poorly made commercials advertising online college degrees and local occupational colleges that will send you on your way to living the life of your dreams. A couple things the commercials leave out are the cost of tuition and the amount you will be paying after interest is added to your loan(s).
I know from personal experience how these for profit schools prey on America’s youth. At the age of 16 I had graduated from high school one full year early and was looking for the perfect college to go to. At the time I was working in a restaurant and figured that working with food and people was something that I should continue doing. I saw a commercial for the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco and thought a school so close to home that can offer me a head start in the culinary field would be a perfect place to go.
I called the school to get some information and was transferred to a recruiter who was very eager to get me to see the school in person. The recruiter told me how difficult it was to be accepted into CCA and encouraged me to begin the application process right away, meaning he wanted me to get my mother’s credit card to seal the deal with a non-refundable application fee of $75 I believe. (Remember I was only 16 at the time.) We then set up a time to meet.
When I arrived at the school for the first time I remember being overwhelmed by the size of the buildings and all the people in suits, you don’t see much of that back in Hollister. My parents and I met with the recruiter who offered to show us around the campus. During our tour the recruiter spoke of the wonders of the school, the success of the alumni and the happiness of the current class. He claimed to be uncertain of the costs, as there was a whole separate department for dealing with the tuition & housing fees, however he was certain of the success rate of graduates.
At one point in the tour the recruiter took me to a marble floored hall where there was a large bulletin board on one wall which was covered in pieces of paper. Each piece of paper was a job opportunity from all over the world, just waiting to be picked by graduates. I was led to believe that before graduation I would be picking one of these places to spend an eight week internship which could turn into a permanent job, that was not the case at all.
After the lie filled tour was complete I was then interviewed. I was asked a small series of generic personality questions then I was asked to close my eyes and describe my dream hotel. I described a five star Hawaiian beach resort in which I was the manager earning more than enough to pay multiple student loans. After describing my dream job I was told that the only way I could achieve that level of success was with a degree from this school.
Once I was enrolled and attending the school it started to become very clear that I had been lied to. The classes were short and beyond pointless, the teachers were rude and unprofessional, and most of the students had no business even being there. Many (like me) were fresh out of high school and were completely dependent on student loans. (One day bus loads of high-school seniors showed up for a field trip and CCA officials actually asked us to miss our class time to give these kids tours!)
The final classes were absolute bullshit. For six weeks the school’s working restaurant is turned into a “classroom” in which some students work the kitchen and others work the floor serving tables. We were not allowed to keep tips and we were encouraged to “up-sell” the costumers, meaning try to get as much cash out of them as you can while you have their attention. Since the classes were so large, a few students took turns being the “manager” of the restaurant which meant at the end of the “class” they got to count and record the money. Each three week class on how to serve tables costs $2,000.00. (So that means they have hundreds of kids paying $4,000 to serve tables for six weeks!!)
The final “class” of the program was called an “externship” which meant we had to work off campus for eight weeks and pay the school $8,000 to do it. Externships don’t pay by the way.
Even though the school has an entire department dedicated to helping students and alumni find jobs and externships, other students and I were told we would need to seek out and set up our own externships. That meant there were now hundreds of students who were looking for the same job in the same city. Most people could not find a hotel or restaurant willing to take them in, some were uncertain on how to even approach a large hotel and ask if they wouldn’t mind letting them hang out there for eight weeks and help out so they could get a piece of paper signed. I ended up paying CCA $8,000 to go back home and work at the restaurant I used to work at for eight weeks, many others did the same.
My experience with the California Culinary Academy was a nightmare that will be very hard to wake up from. I graduated over 4 years ago and I still owe over $140,000, most of which is interest and fees because I cannot afford Sallie Mae’s huge monthly payments of $850 – $1,200+. After writing a similar letter to a newspaper back in 2009, the president of the school signed a check for $7,000 and handed it over to me in hopes that I would keep my mouth shut. Today I received a notice in the mail letting me know that I will not be entitled to the new $40,000,000 settlement that has recently been awarded to former students who are involved in a class action lawsuit that I have also been involved with for nearly 4 years.
CCA President Jennifer White, I know you are human and you might have some feelings left, but I have no apologies for what I have said. I speak the truth and I will continue to do so. I plan to warn the next class of students with flyers, stickers, posters and my voice when they arrive for the first day of classes. I will be heard, you will see me and your next victims will be warned. I have listed my degree and chef coat for auction on E bay for $150,000 as a statement of how worthless a college degree from CCA is in 2011. I do not expect anyone to actually bid on it, but I do hope it costs you new students.
I know I am not alone in these feelings of anger and regret. There are hundreds of thousands if not millions of other young people in the same situation as me today. For this reason (among others) people all over the country are joining together in unity to occupy their local cities and towns. The 99% include all of us who are forced to work and spend our lives achieving someone else’s goals. There is no reason I should start out my professional life with over 100k in debt. It is obvious that student loans are a form of enslavement and I refuse to be a part of it. I will not work and waste my life to pay off a never ending bill. I will not be a slave. I am part of the 99% who are rejecting the old and making way for the new. We can create a better way, so why don’t we?