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Le Cordon Bleu schools in U.S. to close

  • A screenshot of Le Cordon Bleu's website.

CHICAGO » It may seem that you can’t turn on a TV in 2015 without being confronted by a dozen celebrity chefs — but that wasn’t enough to save the U.S. arm of the cookery school that minted Julia Child.

Le Cordon Bleu’s 16 U.S. campuses will stop enrolling students after January, and will close by September 2017, Career Education, its money-losing, Chicago-area owner announced Wednesday.

The culinary school was famous for training Child, the nation’s first celebrity chef, at its famous Paris campus in the 1950s. It grew to serve 20,000 students at 50 schools across the globe.

But if, as the saying goes, “too many cooks spoil the broth,” there are now too few cooks in Le Cordon Bleu’s kitchens.

While the restaurant business has arguably never been more glamorous — at least from the outside — Career Education, which owns the U.S. arm of the chain, has been reeling in recent years from complaints from graduates that Cordon Bleu diplomas weren’t worth the schools’ hefty 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 restaurant industry jobs.

A federal crackdown on “predatory” for-profit schools that take advantage of students, including new regulations which limit student loan payments to 20 percent of a graduate’s after-tax wages, also hit Cordon Bleu hard and was cited by Career Education CEO Todd Nelson, who took over in August, as a reason for the closure.

The regulations “make it difficult to project the future for career schools that have higher operating costs, such as culinary schools that require expensive commercial kitchens and ongoing food costs,” Nelson said in a statement.

Nelson searched for a buyer for the U.S. culinary schools but could not secure a deal that would “protect student, faculty and stockholder interests,” according to a news release. The schools lost $100 million over the last seven quarters.

Career Education, which will continue to run other for-profit schools including Colorado Technical University and American InterContinental University, enjoyed boom times during the recession as laid-off workers headed back to school to retrain. But the company has been struggling mightily since 2011 amid allegations and fines to settle charges that it inflated job placement rates to boost enrollment. Total enrollment across all of its schools was 118,000 in 2010 but fell to just 38,000 this year.

It recently showed signs of progress, however, beating earnings expectations in the second and third quarters.

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      • Sad really, the elegance of dinner time is fast diminishing. I’ve noticed more and more people no longer even use actual plates and silverware, instead going for disposable paper, styrofoam, or plastic plates, forks, and spoons.

    • Well Mike, I guess you don’t know much about cooking do you. My step-son is an executive chef in Charleston S.C. He works ridiculous hours and turns out fantastic meals. The last time he visited, we dined on Paella, grilled Mahi, and pancetta-wrapped asparagus.

      On another note, Julia Childs was both a champion and a hero. Take a look at her WWII exploits working for the OSS.

      • It seems many graduates thought they would become a chef, when reality is that most graduates struggle to find their first job chopping vegetables and boiling water for minimum wage.

  • With bentos and other fast food joints around, who needs and have time for fine dining. Too busy earning a living with little time and money for expensive dining. Probably only the well-to-do prefer have the time and money like the Hees who cannot stand prison food.

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