The culinary arts program at Central Piedmont Community College is bucking a national trend of declining enrollment in higher education, sparked by strong demand among restaurants, bars and clubs.
“I used to get one to two emails a week asking for referrals of students or graduates to come to work. Now I get four to five a day,” says Robert Marilla, culinary arts program chair at Central Piedmont.
Enrollment dropped during the height of the Covid pandemic as hospitality workers bore the brunt of the pandemic-induced recession, but dining out has come back strong, and restaurants can’t find enough skilled cooks to meet demand.
For the fall semester, enrollment in Marilla’s culinary programs jumped from a typical class of about 25 students to 45 students who started the associate degree program in August. It’s the largest incoming culinary class in a decade.
Marilla describes local hospitality managers as “desperate” to find people to work in kitchens.
“People see empty tables at a restaurant and don’t understand why they can’t sit down,” says Richard Spellman, chairman of hospitality management at Central Piedmont. “They just don’t have the service staff. If they seat everyone, they will overwhelm the staff and kitchen.”
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