Vo-tech grads head to college

Southeastern Regional Vocational Technical senior Jonathan Berry fires up an oscilloscope in the electronic engineering shop. Berry will be headed for W.P.I. this fall instead of immediately heading into the work force.

Southeastern Regional Vocational Technical senior Jonathan Berry fires up an oscilloscope in the electronic engineering shop. Berry will attend Worcester Polytechnic Institute. (Photo: George Rizer for the Boston Globe)

Massachusetts’ well-regarded vocational schools are sending more graduates to college, not to the workforce, reports the Boston Globe.

Once viewed as a place for student slackers with no college ambition, Massachusetts vocational high schools are increasing academic standards, offering honors classes, and producing more college-bound students than ever before.

Employers are seeking more formal education for entry-level workers in the fastest-growing career sectors, such as information technology, environmental studies, engineering, biotechnology, and health care, said Patrick Collins, superintendent at Assabet Valley Tech.

Vocational schools still are seen as academically inferior, said Daniel O’Connell, superintendent of North Shore Tech. Some 29.7 percent of seniors in the class of 2013 went on to four-year colleges and universities, up from 15.1 percent five years earlier.

“Vocational education has changed so drastically,’’ he said. “If you were a vokie you worked with your hands and were a discipline problem. That’s archaic. But it’s still a process to educate the public. Each year that goes by, people realize more and more what the opportunities are with a technical education.’’

All students take the Massachusetts curriculum and must pass the state exam to graduate.

Only 30 percent of young people will earn a four-year degree, says Bill Symonds. He’s co-author of Harvard’s 2011 Pathways to Prosperity report, which argued that U.S. high schools should provide a variety of paths to adulthood.

Chris Symonds working in the kitchen at Blue Ginger.  Chris is heading to the elite Culinary Institute of America. (Photo: Emily Hanford)

Chris Symonds working in the kitchen at Blue Ginger. He is heading to the elite Culinary Institute of America. (Photo: Emily Hanford)

His son attends Minuteman, a 21st century vocational high school in Lexington, Mass., reports American RadioWorks

Chris, was a C- minus student who loved to cook. The local high school had no courses to prepare students for a career in cooking.

In the wealthy, well-educated Boston suburbs, “there is a tremendous bias against” vocational education,  says Symonds. But Chris knew it was the right choice for him.

In middle school, he asked himself, “Why am I learning this?” Always behind, “I just felt so stupid.”

. . .  once he got to Minuteman, he started to see why he needed to learn math and English. Chris is now a senior, about to graduate in the top 10 percent of his class.

“In culinary arts, there’s not just the side of, ‘Make this recipe and put it out,’” he says. “There’s the side of, multiply this recipe. Break it down. Make more, make less. There’s the side of hospitality, and learning how to write out business plans, pay wages, make a profit.”

Students who’ve failed in traditional schools can do well at Minuteman, says Michelle Roche, the director of career and technical education. “They’re standing on their feet, they’re working with their hands, they figure out a problem,” she says. “And success breeds success.”

“Every year, some one million students leave before earning a high school degree,” writes Symonds in Pathways to Prosperity. “Many drop out because they struggle academically. But large numbers say they dropped out because they felt their classes were not interesting, and that high school was unrelentingly boring. In other words, they didn’t believe high school was relevant, or providing a pathway to achieving their dreams.”

Career and technical education can engage students and widen their options — including going to college — says Symonds.

Job 1 is job training

Job training is job one for the fast-growing Louisiana Community and Technical College System, reports Community College Week.  The state is rebuilding its economy, says Monty Sullivan, the new president of LCTCS.

“We have an economy that is growing faster than nearly anywhere else in the country, which means our workforce needs are greater than ever,” says Sullivan.

 “We need to link the needs of employers with our educational institutions,” Gov. Bobby Jindal told the Associated Press. “I think our big challenge this session is getting ready for this manufacturing expansion.”

Only 27.9 percent of Louisiana’s working-age adults hold a two- or four-year college degree, well below the national average of 38.7 percent.

A number of states are stressing workforce development,  according to the Education Commission of the States.

In Alabama, Gov. Robert Bentley wants to create a Statewide Workforce Council of business and industry leaders to advise colleges on workforce needs. In Georgia, Gov. Nathan Deal has called for a Governor’s High Demand Career Initiative to bring together education officials, industry leaders and economic development officials to identify workforce needs. In Idaho, Gov. C.L. Otter wants to improve a workforce grant program to better target individual businesses and industry sectors.

Louisiana is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in training facilities and workforce “centers of excellence” linked to their regional economies.

 Baton Rouge Community College, for example, is planning a center that will focus on transportation and logistics; its home city is the ninth-largest port in the United States. Delgado Community College, in New Orleans, is home to a culinary arts and hospitality center of excellence.

Industry partners supply at least 20 percent of the funding. 

At Fletcher Technical Community College, the Deepwater Center for Workforce Excellence will train oilfield engineers and technicians. BP America Inc. contributed $4 million to pay for state-of-the-art equipment.

Cooking is hot in Kansas

Culinary arts is hot at Johnson County Community College (Kansas), reports the Wichita Eagle. With 700 students, JCCC has the largest culinary apprenticeship program in the country. A new Hospitality & Culinary Academy is so modern “it’s almost like walking on the deck of the Starship Enterprise,” says Mark Webster, president of the Greater Kansas City Chefs’ Association.

Students can earn an associate degree of applied science and sous chef certification in three years, with lots of on-the-job training. Or they can go for an associate degree and culinarian certification in food and beverage management.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts growing demand for chefs and head cooks. “The food service industry has really rebounded, and more people are eating out than ever before,” says Lindy Robinson, dean of the college’s business division.

 Enter the main doors of the lobby, and to the left there’s a glass-walled innovation kitchen where JCCC’s student culinary team already has started practicing for its upcoming competition in South Korea. To the right, doors slide open to reveal a 75-seat demonstration kitchen in a theater with a video production room so classes with master chefs can be taped and broadcast on the college’s cable channel.

In the “garde manger,” or cold foods culinary lab, a hook-and-chain pulley system is suspended from a reinforced ceiling. The support beams are strong enough to hang a 350-pound side of beef – Exhibit A in a newly offered butchering class that will emphasize utilization from nose to tail.

Indoor smokers and a 4-foot grill plus patio space to accommodate outdoor cooking give students a better understanding of the techniques behind grilling, smoking and barbecuing.

. . . The cooking labs are set up so 32 students at a time can “work the line,” a simulation of a real-life restaurant environment. The addition of a blast freezer allows pastry students to quickly cool their petit fours and ice them with fondant in a single class period, a time-saving technique typically used in the industry. The new commercial wok gives students the opportunity to explore Asian cuisine in greater depth.

Private culinary schools may charge $40,000 or more for an associate degree. Community colleges typically charge one-tenth that, says Michael McGreal of the American Culinary Federation, who heads the culinary department at Joliet Junior College in Illinois.

‘Sustainable’ food programs grow on campus

Thar’s gold in them thar greens. The food sustainability movement — and the growing demand for locally grown produce — has inspired community colleges to create new agriculture and culinary arts programs, reports Community College Times. 

Food is generally considered to be “sustainable,” according to Sustain: The Alliance for Better Food and Farming, if it is produced, processed and traded in a way that contributes to thriving local economies, protects the diversity of plants and animals, avoids damaging natural resources, and provides safe and healthy products.

At Metropolitan Community College in Nebraska, horticulture and culinary arts are in the same department. Culinary students work in the campus garden, using carrot and onion peelings to create compost.

MCC has an aquaponics system creating a food loop, with nutrient-rich water from a fish tank full of tilapia circulating to fertilize salad greens and herbs, then flowing back into the tank.

Culinary students learn how to cook the tilapia, as well as produce and herbs grown by horticulture students, in a student-run bistro and catering service. Horticulture students raise crops in a “hoop house,” a garden that can be closed up in the winter, creating a 10-month growing season. A patio herb garden showcases “edible landscaping.”

Some students are working on degrees in small-market farming with plans to specialize in such areas as orchard production, viticulture or small animal husbandry, (culinary coordinator Jen) Valandra said. Others want to start their own business producing specialty meats and sausages; cheese; honey; or raising small animals, such as ducks, squab or rabbits.

Students visit different kinds of farms, from a Cargill plant that processes 350 cattle an hour to a small farm that raises lambs.

Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn grows tomatoes, peppers, herbs, kale and lettuce in raised beds on its urban campus. Culinary students compost kitchen waste to help the garden grow, then cook the produce in class. Whatever’s not used in culinary classes goes to the college’s food bank to help needy students and local residents.

Top chef trained at community college

Richard Rosendale, chef at the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia, hopes to be the first American to win the Bocuse d’Or cooking competition in France, reports the Washington Post. Rosendale and chefs from around the world will compete Jan. 30 “in the world’s most challenging and prestigious culinary competition,” which is held every two years in Lyon, France. French and Norwegian chefs have dominated the competition.

In an age when many aspiring young chefs head to the Culinary Institute of America, Rosendale enrolled in the culinary program at Westmoreland County Community College in Youngwood, Pa. He earned his associate degree and entered the Greenbrier’s apprenticeship program, the one he now oversees. This led to apprenticeships with several certified master chefs, training in Europe and sous-vide training at the French Laundry.

Rosendale’s rise shows that “college” can mean real-world vocational training, writes Ben Wildavsky on The Quick and the Ed.

The current requirements for the degree Rosendale earned include not only baking, beverage management, and so forth, but also college writing, microcomputer concepts, social science or math, and more. Students also work many hours as apprentices in restaurants, hotels, or resorts. This culinary arts program . . .  combines practical classroom instruction, an out-of-the-classroom apprenticeship, and classes that focus on some core skills that could prove useful to students in many settings.

It’s not that “too many” Americans go to college, writes Wildavsky. “College” broadly defined — job training as well as Plato —  can benefit many more people.

Culinary arts program opens bistro

Cole’s Bistro is a restaurant — and a classroom for culinary arts students at Anne Arundel Community College in Maryland, reports the Baltimore Sun.

Lynn Brown, who was “cooking pot roasts in the third grade” for his mother, is training to be a chef at the bistro, a partnership between AACC and the Laurel-based Woodland Job Corps Career Development Center.

Cole’s Bistro serves three-course dinners twice a month; online reservations are required.

“Some of our students have never been away from home or have never been to a really nice restaurant,” (culinary arts instructor Monique) Williams said. “As close as they get is our bistro.”

Students staged a soft opening this month with a menu that included a crab appetizer, French onion soup and braised veal shanks with brown sauce, risotto and vegetable.

As a graduation requirement, culinary arts students prepare an on-campus luncheon inspired by their favorite chef.

AACC’s cooking and restaurant program draws students from as far away as Puerto Rico and California.

Iesha Wright, from Rock Hill, S.C., said that she heard about the AACC program while at a Job Corps program in that state, but her knowledge of restaurants was limited to working in fast-food venues.

She’d never eaten Italian or French food before coming to Maryland. “Here, I’ve tried escargot and alligator. It’s a new experience for me.”

Chef’s advice: Don’t go to culinary school

Should aspiring chefs go to culinary school? “The short answer is no,” says chef Anthony Bourdain, a graduate of Culinary Institute of America, in his new book, Medium Raw. Serious Eats explains:

It’s not that Bourdain thinks culinary school is an inherently bad idea. But he warns that even a degree from the very best school is no guarantee of a job, and there’s serious debt involved. If you’re not quite young and not quite fit, a career as a chef may not be for you. If you crave a predictable hours and a manageable level of stress, it may not be for you. Before you sign up for all that debt, he says, you should go work in a kitchen and make sure you really, truly want to be a chef.

In an excerpt on Michael Ruhlman’s site, Bourdain warns that quality restaurants don’t hire graduates of  “the Gomer County Technical College of Culinary Arts.”

A degree from the best culinary schools is no guarantee of a good job. A degree from anywhere less than the best schools will probably be less helpful than the work experience you could have had, had you been out there in the industry all that time.

A new chef with an elite culinary degree — and a pile of debt — will start at $10 to $12 an hour, Bourdain warns.

Some graduates of for-profit culinary programs have trouble repaying federal loans because of low starting salaries, writes Education Sector’s Ben Miller in Are You Gainfully Employed Setting Standards for For-Profit Degrees?

Blind student earns culinary degree

Tiffany Romero is losing her vision, but not her dreams. The vision-impaired student has earned a culinary arts degree with honors from Pueblo Community College in Colorado.

“Don’t let anyone say you can’t do things, if you know in your heart you can,” says Romero.

She’s trying for an internship with the Sara Lee Corporation, and one day hopes to open her own bakery.