[image-1]According to The New York Times, the Culinary Institute of Charleston has seen a 25 percent enrollment decline in the past three years. In a story by the AP, “Culinary Schools Struggle With Enrollment Decline,” Michael Carmel, head of culinary arts at CIC said, “We’re constantly looking for new ways and opportunities to grow our school. It’s not necessarily a numbers game, but a quality game. We need to stay current with trends and have to be able to offer our students opportunities.”

Carmel cites the old struggle of students leaving culinary school with large student loan debt only to get low-paying restaurant jobs as a one of the factors for enrollment decline.

But CIC is taking steps to increase enrollment by offering high school students college-credit courses as well as “partnering with local restaurants and the Metro Chamber of Commerce to assist with student tuition.”

For instance, CIC’s Youth Apprentice Program offers high schoolers the opportunity to attend CIC three days a week while also apprenticing at a local restaurant 10 hours per week. Those selected to the program receive a full scholarship from the Accelerate Greater Charleston fund that covers the cost of classes and textbooks.

Now in its second year, the program has 18 high school students enrolled. “We usually get about 40 inquiries,” says Carmel. “They take two classes each semester and that allows them to be a part-time student here and get state lottery funding.” Which is to say, South Carolina’s lottery funding pays half of each student’s tuition while the Metro Chamber of Commerce picks up the rest. Students who complete the program can leave with a certificate in culinary arts and several classes toward their second certificate, meaning the 24 credits can be applied to an associate’s degree which requires 60 credits.

“It’s a two-fold goal,” adds Carmel. “Our first is to get them to complete a college education. The second goal is to give them the opportunity to work in some high end fine dining restaurants.”

Those businesses include Kiawah’s Sanctuary, Wild Dunes, S.N.O.B., and High Cotton. “The restaurant or resorts involved commit to working with these students during the school year and in summer they can work up to full-time. Some of our the best students with technical skills come from these restaurants because they’re working under a great chef. It’s a win-win.”

In fact, Carmel says two of his students are preparing to graduate high school this spring with their associate’s degree in culinary arts.

Students are selected based on their application and a requirement exam which ensures those selected have a certain level of math, reading, and writing skills. “We want to make sure they can be successful at a college level,” says Carmel. Usually applicants are recommended by a guidance counselor.

The Youth Apprentice Program is just one of the many ways Carmel says CIC is trying to encourage students to enroll. “In the business world you have your ups and downs. Across the country culinary programs are shutting down or being challenged with enrollment. We’re a school at the CIC that doesn’t want to sit and rest on our laurels. Instead, we’re looking at new opportunities,” says Carmel. “We used to pick the low hanging fruit. Everyone wanted to go to culinary school. Now we have to work harder to get the students in.”

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