The U.S. arm of international culinary school Le Cordon Bleu is closing all 16 of its campuses, including its Twin Cities school, by September 2017 and will stop enrolling new students after January, the Chicago-area owner Career Education announced last week.
On Saturday, the website for the campus, which is in Mendota Heights, offered no information about the closing, nor did its Facebook page.
The school was famous for training Julia Child at its Paris campus in the 1950s. It grew to serve 20,000 students at 50 schools around the globe.
Now current students must decide whether to finish the 16-month externship program, which some say carries a heavy price tag for a field where entry-level workers are paid nominally more than minimum wage.
Students at the Twin Cities campus were notified of the school's imminent closing on Tuesday via e-mail, said Chandlor Boken, a 20-year-old chef from South Dakota who is one year into the program.
They were not given a specific reason, he said, but were told that federal regulations have changed and, as a for-profit school, Cordon Bleu won't accept those changes.
Boken, a chef at Eden Prairie's Buca di Beppo, relocated to Minnesota from South Dakota to pursue his culinary certification at Cordon Bleu last April. Although he would graduate in December 2016, Boken must decide if he will stay enrolled — and continue to pay tuition — in a program that's closing. He would get his certification sooner if he stayed, he said, but could save upward of $20,000 by jumping ship and fulfilling those requirements elsewhere.
"What's the point of having a certification through a school that's no longer accredited in the United States?" he said. "For me, it wasn't about the education; it was about the certification — getting where I wanted to go faster.
"For $40,000 of student tuition to be a certified culinarian without a guaranteed title or a guaranteed job — I wouldn't really call it worth it. But I've been doing well for myself and I've gotten to where I am, and that's all that matters to me."
Boken said he enjoyed the school's hands-on teaching style and experienced instructors, but watched a steady stream of classmates drop out each month. What began as a class of 32 students has fallen to four, including himself, he said.
Cordon Bleu's announcement comes on the heels of another major loss to local aspiring chefs. The popular culinary arts program at the Minneapolis Community and Technical College announced in October that it too is on the verge of closing.
That was the first time, college officials say, that they recommended suspending a program largely because of its loan default rate — in this case, 42 percent.
While the restaurant business has arguably never been more glamorous — at least from the outside — Career Education has been reeling from complaints that Cordon Bleu diplomas weren't worth the schools' tuition fees, which can range from $16,000 to as much as $42,550.
In 2013 it paid $40 million to settle a class-action lawsuit brought by former students who alleged Career Education oversold the benefits of a Cordon Bleu diploma, leaving them with large student loans and only poor-paying jobs.