Inside the CIA’s Program with Houston High Schools

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The Culinary Institute of America and the Houston Independent School District (HISD) will launch an educational partnership in September that allows high school students to earn their first semester of CIA college credit during their junior and senior years.

For us, this represents an opportunity to partner with an innovative school district and say, “Can we allow for and experiment with alternate pathways to matriculate into the CIA?” We want to make a CIA education available to students who are strong, motivated, and purposeful, as well as reach students who might not normally consider a culinary college outside of their home region.

Our academic programs have developed more depth in recent years. The bachelor’s degree at the CIA, with majors in management, culinary science, and applied food studies, follows on from the associate degree, which is the foundation in culinary or baking and pastry arts that all students take. And for that foundation, the predominant pathway for students coming into the CIA is through our normal admissions process, whether they are coming out of high school, from military service, or another field.

When students enter the CIA who are involved with special culinary programs in high school, we waive the six-month foodservice work-experience requirement. If they’ve had exposure to culinary training in high school, which would generally include actual restaurant experience, we feel they will have met the six-month requirement, though they still enter the CIA as freshmen.

The program in Houston goes a step further. We’re collaborating to develop a program that adapts the high school culinary curricula to meet the learning objectives of the CIA’s first-semester curriculum, enabling students to enter the CIA’s Hyde Park campus as second-semester students. This represents a savings of both time and money—one semester’s tuition and a semester’s work.

One distinction is that the CIA isn’t delivering instruction in the high school. Instructors at the high schools deliver that education, and they teach the normally prescribed high school courses. What we have done is articulate all the learning outcomes and objectives of our first-semester courses, which include topics such as Introduction to Food Science, Gastronomy, and Culinary Fundamentals, and the schools are making adjustments to their junior- and senior-year curricula to meet our learning objectives.

We will also administer practical exams each year to ensure HISD students have attained the appropriate level of culinary skill. With those checks in place, we’re confident students will have met the objectives of our first-semester curriculum and be well prepared to matriculate at the CIA.

This program originated through a combination of a fortuitous connection and recognition that many HISD students have incredible potential. Through initial contact between CIA Provost Mark Erickson and Dr. Terry Grier, superintendent of HISD, there was mutual recognition of HISD’s strengths and the merit the CIA offers in culinary education, and we started looking for a way to work together.

HISD is also a very diverse district. Many students come from socio-economic backgrounds that aren’t economically or educationally enriched. So, for that reason, we wanted to make a CIA education more accessible and affordable by reducing one semester of tuition. But it’s not only that. A lot of students may not come from backgrounds that encouraged them to even think of the CIA as a possibility—it might just be beyond the field of vision of what they are considering for their college education.

This creates an opportunity for an accomplished group of students and a pathway to a great culinary education.

Dr. Michael Sperling provides leadership in academic administration at The CIA. Previously he was provost and vice president for academic affairs at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, New York.

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