Attending culinary and hospitality school can be just as expensive as any private university, but by defraying those daunting costs for many talented students at Kendall College, Chicago’s top culinary school and hospitality management program, the Kendall College Trust is making sure the kitchens stay open to all.
There’s no doubt about it: College has become overwhelmingly expensive. But in many careers a degree is the key to unlocking doors and landing coveted jobs. Kendall College has long been one of the most prestigious culinary and hospitality management schools in the Midwest, ranked by the Michelin Guide as the number-one program in Chicago. The cost of attending, though, can give pause to many talented young people.
“I had the conversation with my family about taking a quarter or so off in order to pay for college,” says 21-year-old Ashley Rigsbee. “I was thinking of putting off school because I couldn’t pay for it. But at just the right time, the right moment, I was presented with Kendall College Trust’s highest awarded scholarship, a premier scholarship. I was in tears because I would have been happy with a $500 scholarship.”
Instead, Rigsbee received $15,000 from Kendall College Trust — a nonprofit, established in 2008, that has awarded more than $2 million in need-based financial assistance to Kendall College students, making all the difference for many, like Rigsbee. “[The scholarship award] was a sign that I had too much to accomplish to give up now,” she says. Now, the vivacious 21-year old is graduating with honors in June.
“It sounds so great to say it,” she says with a laugh. “This is a dream.” She hopes to pursue a job in hotel sales and marketing. “My ideal job after graduation would be a social media coordinator for a Hilton Brand property. They really support their employees with internal growth. And I can stay at the Waldorf Astoria for only $75 a night!”
The spectre of six-figure student loans is enough to keep many young people from pursuing higher education. Costs have skyrocketed over the past decade everywhere from private four-year universities to hospitality and culinary schools. Current average tuition costs for a bachelor’s degree at Kendall College is $92,000 and an associate’s degree in culinary arts and “baking and pastry” is $55,000. With no guarantee of a job upon graduation, taking on huge amounts of debt from attending school can be a risky proposition for young students. Kendall College Trust has made its mission “supporting the culinary, hospitality and business leaders of tomorrow” with a number of scholarship opportunities and other resources.
For Rigsbee, even after her mother and grandmother helped muster the funds to support her associate’s degree, her student loans were becoming overwhelming as she pursued her bachelor’s degree in hospitality management. “Kendall College Trust was my golden ticket,” she explains. “I needed a sign of hope for myself and my family. KCT was that halo effect —the push to keep me going forward and not give up. I would not have been able to continue my education if it was not for Kendall College Trust. They lifted the weight and stress of finances off my shoulders.”
Dominique Pyka, who is graduating this quarter with a degree in international business management, also says she would not have been able to finish her degree without Kendall College Trust. “KCT has supported me throughout my Kendall College career financially and has made it possible for me to get an education, because I would not have been able to afford it otherwise,” the 26-year-old explains. “KCT has also allowed me to network with industry professionals and meet the generous donors, and encouraged me to do more volunteer work.” Pyka volunteers with Off The Street Club and is in the process of becoming a volunteer for the Imerman Angels as well as SitStayRead, a 2014 Make It Better Philanthropy Award winner.
Catherine De Orio, most recognizable as the glamorous host of “Check, Please!” was appointed executive director for Kendall College Trust in 2014. De Orio is a 2005 Kendall College grad and former lawyer. Her myriad experiences and compassion make her an ideal leader for KCT.
“We give away on average $250,000 a year in scholarships,” De Orio says. Over the past eight years that amounts to more than $2 million. There are 15 different scholarships that students can apply for, based on both need and merit. All scholarship recipients must be eligible for financial aid, and beyond that it becomes a question of merit. A scholarship committee from Kendall College Trust awards scholarships with input from donors.
Some scholarships were created in honor of former trustees, and local businesses like Garrett Popcorn and Gale Street Inn have also generously funded scholarships. Rick Bayless and Frontera even sponsor a scholarship that covers 100 percent of direct tuition costs for a first- or second-generation Mexican-American pursuing an associate degree in culinary arts or baking and pastry.
Sparking an Early Passion
As executive director, De Orio hopes to create a stronger vocational track for students, including a mentorship program with industry professionals to help students in underserved communities. “It’s all about creating a sustainable cycle for our students,” she says. Last summer, she helped launch a week-long summer culinary camp for Chicago Public Schools high school students in partnership with Careers Through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP). Twenty-four students had a chance to stay in Kendall’s dormitories and attend class for a week, getting a taste for what life as a Kendall student would be.
“We learned last year that some of these kids are really advanced,” De Orio says. “The instructor would have to come
up with new things to teach because they caught on so fast.” This year, the camp will expand to two separate week-long sessions and involve more Chicago chefs and cultural enrichment along with culinary and hospitality education. “We’re bringing together like-minded students and creating a sense of community,” she says. That can be just as valuable as knife-wielding skills for a high-schooler figuring out his or her future.
“We hope that they eventually come back and go to school here,” De Orio adds. “If they don’t, but if they leave the camp with portable skills and they’re able to get gainful employment that they might not have been able to achieve before then, we’ve done our job. This isn’t merely a funnel into the college.” But if students do choose to further their education, the KCT and its resources are there to help.
There are several delicious ways you can support Kendall College Trust and help culinary students achieve their dreams. You can enjoy the classic pairing of fried chicken and champagne at Fried Chicken & Champagne Fest on Saturday, Nov. 4. Or dine year-round at Kendall College Dining Room, where students run both front and back of house and all gratuities help fund scholarships.
For more information about Kendall College and Kendall College Trust, visit kendallcollegetrust.org.