Tiffany Derry Defends For-Profit Culinary Schools

Dallas chef Tiffany Derry this week dove into the maelstrom surrounding financial assistance at for-profit colleges, arguing in an essay for The Hill that the government is threatening the culinary arts by withholding loans from students enrolled in career schools.

The Department of Education is attempting to issue new rules linking a school's eligibility for federal student aid to its graduates' income levels and loan repayment rates. Supporters say the regulations would help curb abusive and exploitative practices at for-profit schools, some of which reportedly recruited enrollees at homeless shelters and charged $100,000 for game design degrees that helped graduates land $8.90-an-hour retail jobs in Toys R Us' video game department.

But members of the House of Representatives who recently approved an amendment blocking the new rules say low-income and minority students would be disproportionately hurt by limits on financial aid.

Derry, who's in Washington this week meeting with legislators, shares those concerns. Yet the former Top Chef contender also raises the interesting question of what the proposed rules might mean for aspiring cooks.

Derry graduated from the for-profit Art Institute of Houston and returned to teach there. For-profit colleges are important players in the culinary world: While the American Culinary Federation, which awards accreditation to qualifying culinary schools, wasn't able to provide a breakdown of how many accredited schools are career colleges, a cursory review of the schools listed on its website suggested about half of the nation's accredited programs would be affected by the new financial aid rules.

In Pittsburgh, there are only two culinary schools operating downtown: The Art Institute of Pittsburgh and Le Cordon Bleu's Pittsburgh branch, which has already announced plans to close. According to a report in the Pittsburgh Business Times, "new federal regulations for for-profit education companies were a factor in (the) decision."

"As these programs close," Derry asks in her essay, "who will train the next generation of top chefs?"

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