Culinary Education Heating Up at Arkansas Colleges

by Jan Cottingham  on Monday, May. 5, 2014 12:00 am  

Enrollment grew throughout the decade and into the 2000s, and the school wanted to move up from offering an apprenticeship certificate to an associate’s degree, so it began working with the state Department of Higher Education.

Eventually, the school approached Pulaski Tech’s Board of Trustees about a potential merger. The board approved the plan and Gold said he “went from being the president of the Arkansas Culinary School to being the director of the culinary school at Pulaski Tech.” That was in the fall of 2006; by late 2009, the program had 400 students.

In 2010, the Pulaski Technical College Culinary Arts & Hospitality Management Institute received accreditation from the American Culinary Federation Education Foundation and the Accrediting Commission for Programs in Hospitality Administration.

By mid-2012, ground was broken for the institute’s own facility, and in September 2013, the school opened its doors.

In addition to culinary studies, the institute offers programs in hospitality, including an associate of applied science degree in hospitality management as well as certificates of proficiency in hospitality and restaurants, and hospitality and tourism.

At NWACC, the culinary arts and hospitality program is operated in the Center for Nonprofits in Rogers. “At this point, we have as many students as we can fit in the program,” Hamm said. “So we’re actually looking at different options, into expanding the facility or moving into a new facility.”

Gold is proud of the institute at Pulaski Tech and the quality of education it provides, but he’s just as proud that it provides an affordable education.

“You can get your two-year associate’s degree in culinary arts with your chef coats and knife kits included for about $14,000,” he said. “Six hours away in Dallas at the Art Institute you get that same two-year associate’s degree — it’s $82,000. The Culinary Institute of America is $69,000 for that same degree. Johnson & Wales [University in Providence, Rhode Island] is about $49,000 for that same degree.

“It’s really financial aid malpractice in my opinion for these private universities and even some of these public universities to do that to these students,” Gold said. “We have always been about giving the students an affordable, great education and now a great facility with a student loan load that they can easily pay back” from their compensation once they find jobs.

“There are a lot of chef positions in the central Arkansas market now that are six figures and above,” he said. “I can think of five off the top of my head. But that doesn’t mean you graduate from culinary school and earn that. You’re going to have to put in your time. You’re going to earn $27,000 to $35,000 a year for a number of years and work your way up to when you earn a name for yourself and you can interview for one of those big jobs.”

One recent graduate is Robin Dixon, 27, of Little Rock. Dixon earned an associate of applied science in culinary arts in 2013. She’s now the catering chef at the Green Leaf Grill in the Arkansas Blue Cross & Blue Shield building in downtown Little Rock.

In addition to earning her degree, Dixon did an apprenticeship with the American Culinary Federation. “Together, I learned the book side and the fine dining business side of it and got the experience I needed along the way to move forward into knowing lots of chefs, getting to work lots of events,” she said.



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