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Culinary Schools Are Getting More Expensive — Should You Go?

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Tuition costs are rising, but industry salaries can’t keep up

Chef supervising others making salads in kitchen Wavebreakmedia/shutterstock

By now, aspiring chefs know the value of a culinary arts education is debatable. Last year, Eater found that people with culinary arts degrees who work in hospitality don’t earn much more than their colleagues who don’t have degrees. But future chefs still debating whether school is worth the time and money have another daunting fact to consider: the cost of culinary education is getting higher, but compensation is not.

We revisited salary numbers from compensation data company Payscale and found that not much has changed in the last year. Chefs with culinary degrees still make, on average, only 12 percent more than chefs who don’t have degrees, and the average hourly wage for a culinary arts professional hovers around $22/hour, or $40,000 a year.

The high costs of culinary school — and mediocre compensation in many parts of the hospitality industry — may already be affecting attendance. Despite a recent growth in cooking school popularity, the number of degrees awarded for personal and culinary services in 2014 decreased for the first time in five years, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. (The "personal and culinary services" category includes other fields like cosmetology and funeral services.)

Meanwhile, those set on getting professional training are facing tuition rates increasing at about $700 per year, National Center for Education Statistics data shows. What aspiring chefs might find more disheartening is that while tuition increases three percent each year, overall compensation and salary for cooking careers has only increased about one percent each year across industry positions, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This means people wondering if they should go to culinary arts school have to factor in the industry’s so-so pay, in addition to education’s minimum impact on it.

There is good news, however. Despite the low pay and expensive training, culinary jobs are booming. Employment for American chefs and cooks has been increasing at about 10,000 jobs each year since 2012, Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows. Prior to that, industry employment had been losing more than 3,000 jobs each year, on average, since 2003. That means that in addition to a degree's modest 12 percent boost in salary, the job market is one more thing potential culinary students have to consider. Should they take a job now, or spend two years earning an expensive certificate?

Of course, the money may not always matter as much as the training, opportunities, and experience, which, for many, is priceless. Watch on:

· Three Charts That Show Why Culinary School Is Not Worth It [E]

· Culinary School: The Pros and Cons of Culinary Education [E]