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Did the Culinary Institute of America Defraud Me With Student Loans? – Ruth

By on October 3, 2016

Question:

Dear Steve,

I received assistance from the student financial aid department of the Culinary Institute of America for ALL of the federal loans that I borrowed. My financial aid counselor did not take into consideration that I also borrowed private loans (even though they processed that information).

After graduation, I quickly realized that private loans combined with federal loans is a recipe for financial disaster because private loans and federal loans are two entirely separate things on paper and do not reflect as a total amount that is coming out of my pocket every month. So, when I attempt to lower my monthly payments, my income seems high because I am making enough to cover both federal and private loans but my federal loan servicer ONLY takes into consideration the federal loans and my private loan servicer ONLY takes into consideration my private loans but they don’t take into consideration the fact that when they are combined the amount that I have to pay monthly, almost makes it impossible for me to live a normal self sustaining adult life.

When I graduated high-school, I had such high hopes for where my future was going. I wanted to be a chef, I wanted to live a beautiful life with purpose and make others happy with the artful craft that is cooking. The Culinary Institute seemed so grand at the time. It was advertised to be the best culinary school in the world. Without hesitation, I took out private loans and did whatever it took just to graduate from the best culinary school in the world, because I thought it was worth it, as it was portrayed to be.

I was desperate to receive a college education and did not have enough with the already massive private loans that I borrowed to cover the cost. I had complete faith that I was in good hands and my financial aid counselor would not point me in the wrong direction. I was taken advantage of and not given enough information to make an educated decision regarding my FEDERAL student loans (mind you, I take full responsibility for my PRIVATE loans).

During the process of borrowing my federal loans, my financial aid counselor did not state the total amounts that I was borrowing, nor was I expressed interest rates or anything of that matter. I was also under the impression that, not all but some, of the money that I was receiving were grants that did not have to be paid back. The majority of the time the main statement my counselor communicated to me was, “I got you some more money.”

Evidently, a student not knowledgeable about the loan process, such as me, would have been confused by that statement. The entire process was convoluted and instead of helping me make my decision with clarity, the financial aid adviser only confused me further. I did not know how much total I borrowed until after graduation. If I would have been informed of the total amount that I borrowed federally, especially in my last semesters I would have not taken out additional loans. I was under the impression that federally, I had borrowed under $10,000 but it was actually $25,716 (after interest).

Granted, I should have asked more questions but with the knowledge that I had and with the faculty’s aid in the delusion of me and other students, I would not have known the correct questions to ask, that would have given me the knowledge that would have prevented me from going into so much debt.

A degree from the Culinary Institute of America did not prepare me or other students for gainful employment as promised. There are no jobs available 6 months after graduation that make it affordable to live a self sustaining lifestyle and pay back the amount of debt that I acquired with the assistance of the Culinary Institute of America financial aid department.

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The average hourly wage for a line cook is 12.50-15.00 per hour or about 21,140 a year, making a little over $100,000 of debt impossible to pay. I am required to work 7 days a week to afford my loan payments, this is not the vision that was portrayed to me when I was applying for and attending CIA and I am not alone.

Multiple faculty members make it appear that the cost of a CIA education is worth the price by brainwashing students with repeat statements such as, “With a CIA education you will receive any job.” and “When you make phone calls regarding jobs, the first thing you should say is that you are a graduate of CIA and they will listen.” and so on. When, in reality, no employer cares and students do not receive that much of a competitive advantage to non-culinary school graduates.

Every single interview (in the culinary field) that I have had since graduation, the employer did not know of CIA or knew of CIA but it did not seem to effect the interview process in my favor. The employers seemed unconcerned about my formal culinary education.

In addition to misleading students about the value of a CIA education. CIA is constantly in misconduct by the way they manage the on campus restaurant classes. The classes are working restaurants, which service paying guests (students pay to take this class). The direction of where the profits go is unclear.

Very few instructors are intrigued with educating students but are more intrigued with restaurant operations. In one of the restaurant classes, the Bocuse Restaurant, the class schedule states that the class should be in session from 1 P.M to 9 P.M. In reality, the class is in session from 1 P.M to around 2 A.M every night.

The reason is students are assigned unnecessary cleaning assignments such as scrubbing stove top burners until they are silver in color. Not only is this noneducational and cruel, but when I e-mailed the director of restaurant classes he stated, “We try to resemble real working conditions.” This does NOT mimic real working conditions in any way because in reality no employer would pay their employees to scrub stove-top burners for 2-3 hours because it is a pointless and non-beneficial task for both the employer and the employee.

In addition, I would like to clarify that, I do not intend to portray the fact that, my situation as well as my hourly rate is a reflection of my work ethic or my skill level. I am good at what I do, and am a great addition to any kitchen team. The only problem is that, the pay that I receive does not match my value and the value that I should have had with a CIA education.

Am I eligible for borrower defense to repayment?

Ruth

Answer:

Dear Ruth,

I’m so sorry to hear about your experiences. Sadly, the issues plaguing students who attend CIA is not a new development. Many people become blinded to the issues because they are excited about the CIA messages and belief it will cause them to get great jobs in the culinary field.

In 2013 the New York Times said, “At many culinary schools, concern has grown over rising tuition; many students graduate into sous-chef jobs that pay about $35,000 a year, often without benefits like medical insurance or paid vacation.”

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Back in 2010 “Peter Lamb, a successful entrepreneur who has opened half a dozen Seattle restaurants, stands outside his latest, Belltown’s Branzino, making sure the sidewalk tables are properly set. “I never hire cooks. I hire dishwashers, train them, and promote them,” he says.

“A kid can come to work for me tomorrow as a dishwasher, and after two years, he’s a $13- or $14-an-hour line cook. That same kid, if he goes to culinary school, graduates two years later, $50,000 in debt, and he’s lucky to get a job for $9 an hour.”

So the big question is if the math every really added up. Did the CIA misrepresent the facts to induce you to enroll based on lies?

Under the federal Borrower Defense to Repayment program, federal student loans may be forgiven and payments made, refunded. But since this is a relatively new program and the guidelines are not well defined yet, all we have is some advice provided by the U.S. Department of Education.

To be eligible for forgiveness and refunds you would need to show the specific state laws the school broke that left you in a harmed position. You would also need to document the alleged misconduct of the school and the injury you suffered as a result of the school’s alleged misconduct.

As it stands right now, this is the toughest and more critical part of obtaining forgiveness under the Borrower Defense effort. As the Department of Education says, “U.S. Department of Education will acknowledge a borrower’s claim under state law as a defense to repayment of a loan only if the cause of action directly relates to the loan or to the school’s provision of educational services for which the loan was provided.”

But let’s say you were able to get legal help to identify the fraud you suffered under state law. This forgiveness program would only apply to your federal loans and not your private loans.

As of the date I am writing this, even the Department of Education says to hold off before submitting a claim. They say, “More information on borrower defense to repayment, including a borrower defense claim form for borrowers to use, and how to get your loan discharged will be made available on this page at a later date.”

For more information on this program, click here.

You might have a shot at this forgiveness if you can get a legal opinion that the school deceived you or misled you in violation of New York State law. One area to look at would be the documented income claims or placement claims. Hopefully you still have some of that documentation around. Most don’t.

The big danger with filing a claim too early and not well documented can be found in this article.

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Steve Rhode is the Get Out of Debt Guy and has been helping good people with bad debt problems since 1994. You can learn more about Steve, here.

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