November 18, 2021
NMC’s Culinary Institute Prepares For Change
Gail Eickenroth proudly holds a loaf of bread during a baking class
Lobdells is a teaching restaurant housed at NMC's Great Lakes
Editor in Chief
Photo courtesy of Hannah Gaither
There may be big changes for Culinary Arts students come fall 2022. The department is instituting broad changes in how classes are run in addition to modifying the Culinary Arts Associate’s Degree and the current Baking Level I Certificate. A new Baking Level II Certificate and a Culinary Arts Level I Certificate will also be available.
This might change the plans of students like Molly Salter, a first-year student currently enrolled in the Associates in Culinary Arts and Baking Certificate I program. “I actually own and run a business out of my house right now and my goal is to one day make an actual brick and mortar store,” said Salter.
She hopes to add her name to the growing list of Great Lakes Culinary Institute (GLCI) graduates who have added to the reputation of the city’s “foodie” scene. Although her business, Bee Marie’s Cupcakes and Macarons, is doing well, Salter believes she still needs the culinary program to fulfill her lifelong dream. “I might look into [the Baking Level II Certification], absolutely,” Salter said. “The main thing is obviously cost.”
The program’s offerings of both general education, which include some business and operations classes, and specialization in baking, were perfect for her. And students can expect an even more adaptable program once the planned changes are in place.
Committee Addresses Department Struggles
These changes are the result of the Reimagining the GLCI Committee NMC president Nick Nissley chartered in early 2021. The committee was charged with addressing the large deficit of the program. With steep overhead costs and declining enrollment, the committee’s goal is to cut the culinary deficit in half in three years.
The program’s deficit had increased from just over $59,000 in 2014, to over $300,000 in 2020. At the same time, enrollment has declined from 131 students in fall of 2014 to 56 students in 2020 for the associates program, and from 27 to 11 students in the culinary arts certification program.
Community college enrollment is down across the board. A recent Axios article details the downward trend over the past five years, which left colleges, on average, with 10% fewer students pre-COVID. Once the pandemic hit, that number dropped another 8.6%. NMC has trended slightly worse than the national average, with fall enrolment dropping approximately 21% during that time.
Deciding to restructure a department during a global pandemic may seem a bit strange. “I am a believer that there’s no better time than the present,” said Nissley. “In other words, given the financial and enrollment challenges, we must address the challenge now. Or, we risk the challenge becoming insurmountable. I’ve been impressed by the GLCI faculty and staff—working through this tremendous challenge, especially during a pandemic!”
“It’s important for me to be clear, the report produced did not make any judgment on our people—who I believe are doing good work serving our students.”
The committee developed a two-pronged approach. The first was a revamping of the classes and certificate programs offered to students in order to increase enrollment. “We are now becoming a culinary educational hub,” said Les Eckert, Director of the GLCI. “We want people to come to us for their culinary educational needs. Whether that means smaller certificates, so that you’re not in it longterm to get a big degree, you’re in it for specific needs. Shorter certificates. Certificates that stack.”
The hope is to attract professionals, new students, “foodies”, and hobbyists. Eckert is also currently looking at developing immersive classes or several day courses for community members at all levels to learn new skills.
Sustainability and farm-to-table methods are proving to be more of a shift in the industry than a passing trend and will be incorporated into the new curriculum. There is also a new Maritime certificate in the works, which will focus on culinary skills used while cooking and serving on the water. The department is also looking at offering shorter semesters in order to increase student retention rates and offering credit for work experience. This will allow students to avoid starting at the bottom, and for their education to pick up where their work training leaves off.
They may be on to something. Students like Gail Eickenroth, currently enrolled in the baking certificate program, are drawn to the specialized options, which save money. Her mother discovered the baking certification option on NMC’s website. “All those cooking classes would probably be useful to me at one point,” said Eickenroth. “But, I mean, it was really nice that they had the opportunity for me to just...hyper-focus on that one specific path.”
In order to help control program costs, there will be a general focus on increasing instructional efficiency by condensing courses, where appropriate, and minimizing food waste in the kitchen. While the plan requires a reduction in labor costs, it does not require layoffs.
“It’s important, if we’re raising the standards of our program—and showcasing the value that we have to offer in our educational programs—we also have to ensure that our faculty has superb training and our facility is current and up-to-date,” said Eckert.
The second “prong”, and next phase, of the Reimagining the GLCI Committee’s plan is to discover a way to make Lobdell’s more profitable. The restaurant is only open for about a third of the time so making it a year-round operation could be an option, if the right community partner can be found. The committee has until March to finalize a plan to increase revenue at the restaurant.
The culinary arts institute has a long road ahead of it, but changes are happening quickly. With a clear path laid out, the program can tackle a post-pandemic reality with high hopes and continued community support. “In two to four years, I would like to see our enrollment increase, but increase because we have opened the doors and we’ve made our programming more accessible to a variety of potential students,” said Eckert, adding, “We have lofty goals, but you know, sometimes lofty goals make you dream bigger.”