An Educated Guest

Ep.9 | Disrupting the Culinary Model: Taking Vocational Education Online


Guest: Tracy Lorenz, CEO & President of Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts

 

Todd Zipper, President of Wiley Education Services, welcomes Tracy Lorenz, CEO & President of Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. Todd and Tracy discuss the benefits of online culinary and pastry arts classes. The Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts is the only accredited institution in the United States to offer fully online diploma and degree programs with hands-on industry externships. Listen to their conversation on your favorite podcast platform.

Topics Discussed:

  • How Auguste Escoffier disrupted the culinary model and proved that effective vocational education can be delivered online
  • Ways to create a 1:1 learning environment online, which is often cited by students as a reason for selecting the program at Auguste Escoffier
  • The current demand for chefs and the desire for credentials in the restaurant industry
  • How to take advantage of the scale of online education to provide affordable training

Guest Bio

Tracy Lorenz has more than 20 years of leadership experience in higher ed, including both online and campus-based operations. Currently, Tracy leads her team as the CEO and President of Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts to provide fully online, accredited culinary and pastry programs for adults.

Prior to joining Auguste Escoffier, Tracy served as the Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operating Officer of Western International University, where she later stepped into the role of President. Tracy has held a variety of key executive roles at Career Education Corporation where she led operations, strategy and development, as well as investor relations and corporate communications. Previously, she held positions at McDonald’s International and KPMG in finance and accounting. Tracy passed the Illinois CPA exam and received her Bachelor of Science Degree in Accounting and Master’s of Strategic Management Degree from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business.



View Transcript

Speaker 1:
You’re listening to An Educated Guest, a podcast that brings together great minds in higher ed to delve deeper into the innovations and trends guiding the future of education and careers. Hosted by the president of Wiley Education Services, Todd Zipper.

Todd Zipper:
Hello, this is Todd Zipper and I am the host of An Educated Guest. On today’s show, I speak with Tracy Lorenz, CEO and president of Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. Tracy has more than 20 years of leadership experience in higher education, including both online and campus-based operations. Currently, Tracy leads the team in Escoffier to provide fully online accredited culinary and pastry programs for adults. Here are some of my key takeaways.

Todd Zipper:
First, Escoffier is disrupting the culinary model and showing how effective vocational education can be delivered online. They are partnering with employers in areas such as Work & Learn. Second, they have created a one-to-one learning environment online, which is often cited by students as a reason for selecting the program. Third, there used to be a real thought that you could only learn on the line in a kitchen. Today, 80% of the culinary jobs want chefs to be credentialed and there is a massive need for those chefs today. Escoffier is addressing both the demand and the credentialing angle as they’re the only accredited fully online culinary program.

Todd Zipper:
And lastly, Escoffier’s tuition is very affordable relative to in-person training. In large part, taking advantage of the scale of delivering an online education. Hello Tracy, thank you for being here today on An Educated Guest. So before we get started, if anybody is living in America and they’ve tried to go to a restaurant, I’m sure they’ve seen some signs on the window or on the door basically saying, “Help wanted. We need a chef.” And I just recently read a statistic from the national restaurant association that reported almost half of culinary establishments are operating with 20% less staff than pre-pandemic employment levels.

Todd Zipper:
And as accommodations and food service openings spiked to nearly 1 million in March according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics So this is a very appropriate topic of today. When we think about all those job openings, we’re thinking about, how can we get these folks trained? So on that front, before we jump in Tracy, you’ve got a great background, very eclectic, really interesting. So prior to entering higher ed, you held positions at McDonald’s and KPMG in finance and accounting. What influenced you to pivot to higher education?

Tracy Lorenz:
Yeah. So I had kind of come to a crossroads in my career when I found my calling in higher education. I was at McDonald’s. I was working on the international segment. I was traveling three out of the four weeks of every month. And then I had my first child. And I realized I couldn’t do that anymore. So I started looking for opportunities outside of McDonald’s. Had some big company opportunities here in Chicago and then found this organization that was servicing and educating working adults.

Tracy Lorenz:
Quite honestly, I didn’t even know that that existed. I thought everyone went to school like I did, At 18, you press pause on your life for four years, you go to school, then you press play. So the fact that we had over fit 50 million people in the workforce that didn’t have their degree really intrigued me. And so I fell in love with that whole social responsibility part, joined the organization. It was pretty small at that time. And I’ve never looked back with the 23 years plus since then.

Todd Zipper:
Excellent. So you joined Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts, hopefully I said that right, in 2017 as their CEO and president. What interested you in joining this particular school? And who is Auguste Escoffier?

Tracy Lorenz:
Yeah. So Auguste Escoffier is the chef of kings, king of chefs. He was best friends with César Ritz. So if you think about Ritz-Carlton, back in the late 1800s, early 1900s, they partnered up. So think about Auguste Escoffier as being the dining guy, the chef guy and César Ritz being the hospitality. And so they came together to open up a hotel called the Carlton. And then also worked at a hotel called the Savoy. And basically revolutionized the way that we hotel and dine today.

Tracy Lorenz:
So it can traced all the way back to then. I would tell you that if anyone is a chef today and has that title, it is because of Auguste. He professionalized the job. And so he also created things like the five mother sauces, cherries jubilee, peach melba, the brigade system I could go on and on and on about Auguste Escoffier, but most notably and arguably the most influential culinary of our time.

Todd Zipper:
That’s awesome. So I love that, what your team has done with taking a subject matter that mostly would’ve never been taught online, right? When you think about culinary, you think about cooking, you think about tasting, eating something, but yet your organization several years back had this vision and took a school that was teaching people in a traditional in-person fashion and took it online. So it’s now accredited, training thousands of students. So can you just walk me through that whole experience and how did you guys decide to jump into this space of online education?

Tracy Lorenz:
Sure, sure. So Jack Larson, who is the founder of our company, I actually, when I joined Auguste Escoffier, I came back to work for him. So when I went first into higher education, I went to go work with him. Left to go to another higher education institution, and then came back to rejoin Jack. And Jack had run culinary schools, we had run culinary schools at our previous organization. And back in the day when we were doing online education, only for our business education, IT education, HR, we always had joked about the fact that we’d bring culinary online and that we would mail the chicken to the chef instructors.

Tracy Lorenz:
And so while it was a little bit of tongue in cheek, we always kept that vision in mind because we do believe that vocational education can be done online. So we first sought a great name brand. As I mentioned, Auguste Escoffier, most influential culinarian. We actually went to the family. So Jack contacted great grandson of Auguste Escoffier, Michel Escoffier who lives in the South of France and also shares time in London. And basically reached out to him and said, “We want to resurrect your great grandfather’s name.” They’re not chefs. So anyone post Auguste, they were bankers and engineers. And so in his family, they didn’t have this legacy.

Tracy Lorenz:
And so we reached out to him and said that we wanted to resurrect the legacy of Auguste Escoffier. Told him how we were going to do it. We first started with two residential campuses and great progressive foodie towns in the United States. One in Austin and the other one in Boulder. And from there, we started thinking about how to bring the programs online. We are the only accredited institution in the United States to offer fully online programs. Accreditation of state regulatory as well as department of ed takes a lot of work and effort. You have to make sure that you demonstrate phenomenal student outcomes.

Tracy Lorenz:
And so we had to take a long time to prove that out. So we started off with our ground campuses and then we had to invest and bring the programs online, demonstrate efficacy of the programs, bring the students all the way through the program, get them an externship and then get them a job. Report all of that information back to the accreditor in order to get approval. So it was a long process. We just celebrated our ten-year anniversary last year, unfortunately, during the pandemic, but it was still celebration for us.

Tracy Lorenz:
And basically what we did is we married the best of our culinary education experience with the best of our online student experience, because we had a lot of people that had both capabilities. And by bringing those two groups together on my team, we were able to deliver this great experience online. And so it’s really been a great run. We love being the disruptor. We think the traditional culinary education model was broken and has a high fixed cost of kitchens which leads to a high tuition price, which unfortunately leads to high tuition cost for our students.

Tracy Lorenz:
And when you take a step back and you look at who we’re serving, which is a medium to lower-wage earner, that high debt to culinary student just does not make sense. And so we love that the model addressed the high cost of education, and then there was a lack of accessibility. So bringing this to a national footprint and then working with national employers with our students in their local markets has really proved successful for student outcomes.

Todd Zipper:
Well, I’ve got a lot of questions. I’m going to start with, you said a word, hands-on industry externships. What exactly are externships, especially when most of us think about internships. I don’t want to confuse the two. So can you explain what that is and how you implement that in the Escoffier School?

Tracy Lorenz:
Sure. So internships and externships are very similar. We like in internships to be during the program. They expose a student to an industry, but they may not be a requirement for graduation. Our externship on the other hand is structured at the very end of the program. So their course before they take their externship course is called farm-to-table. And so we’re really proud that we deliver farm-to-table course to our students. We own that trademark for vocational education and we think it’s important to teach students where their ingredients come from and the science around growing ingredients and delivering that.

Tracy Lorenz:
So once they get through farm-to-table, we then work with our employer partners as well as the student to secure them a paid externship. It’s just like a course. They have to actually, instead of coming to class, they actually have to go to work. They have to get sign off from their employer that they showed up to work, that they’re doing what they’re what they’re supposed to do, that they have achieved competency. So there’s an employer engagement that we want to make sure because at the tail end of the program, and it basically culminates this efficacy of the program and it’s a seal of approval that we’re doing what we said we’re going to do, a promise to the student and a promise to the employer.

Tracy Lorenz:
Our goal of course is that, that externship is going to convert into full-time placement. And so we work really hard to ensure that the students understand who they’re going to, what their expectations are, that they understand the work environment and the employers. We do a lot of work on prepping them in getting them ready for interviews and things like that so that this is not just a temporary step, but that it could be a nice onboarding into the industry for them.

Todd Zipper:
Excellent. So you mentioned affordability, that the traditional model is quite expensive. And so can you jump into that and talk about the cost of a program like this relative to a typical program and how students pay for it typically?

Tracy Lorenz:
Sure, sure. Our regular price is very different than a very high cost culinary education. Our online programs are about 15 to $25,000, depending if they’re getting a certificate, which is their credential. Think about it as the one year of an associate program, or if they’re going all the way to an associate degree. On average, a student will graduate with no more than about $9,000 worth of debt. Think about them getting a $15 per hour minimum wage job. And we know based on what you were saying, Todd, earlier about the chef shortage, employers are offering a lot more than that right now that we’re seeing.

Tracy Lorenz:
They can pay basically for their education as well as their living expenses and still have some nice room. So it’s a nice return turn on their education dollars. And we talk a lot about that. That’s kind of a tenant in what we did and how we developed our models. So it’s very important that we look at the cost of education. And we want make sure that we’re delivering that value and the value is not just price. So we know that if you offer a cheap product that’s really inexpensive, but you don’t deliver on the outcome or that product is not great, it’s all for naught.

Tracy Lorenz:
So we’re balancing the tuition cost as well as the backend outcomes that we deliver to our students. And so we’re really proud of that. We think there’s a lot of opportunity for a lot of culinary schools. And so when you think about community colleges, they’re doing a great job in their local area. They’re very inexpensive. And then you think about some of the high-end culinary schools as well. Again, it’s a very regionalized. We’re different. We focused right squarely in the middle where there was a void of affordable, accessible quality education. And that’s what we’re doing right now. There’s just so much demand for skilled talent into the industry. And so we feel like we’re helping lead the chef shortage and solving for that problem in various ways.

Todd Zipper:
Yeah. On that front, so I noticed in July, Escoffier launched the ramped up Escoffier Connect Platform with the addition of a new real-time talent matching tool designed to connect employer partners with the 12,000 plus Escoffier students and alumni. Can you talk more about this program and what the vision is for it going forward?

Tracy Lorenz:
Right. Yeah. So we think of Escoffier just connecting employers with students. And by the way, we’re servicing a great industry with culinary and hospitality. In traditional culinary schools, you do that on the back end. You have someone who’s coming up into externship. So they’re already skilled up. They’re newly mented. They go into an externship and then they go into graduation and into the industry. We take a step back and we think about that more holistically. So just imagine if you’re a big hospitality, a big hotel chain that can’t find talent right now. So you can’t find people to come to work for you. It would be really interesting if you said, “Come to work for us because we have a Work & Learn program with Escoffier.”

Tracy Lorenz:
So you’re going to be hired into our kitchen. You’re going to work in our kitchen and are going to school online. It’s almost like the apprenticeship model reimagined. Then you think about the existing workforce. We did a recent study that showed that 60% of the industry does not have a degree or credential, yet 80% of the jobs have preferred or required a credential. So there’s a huge to mismatch. So think about the existing workforce. We can go in there, and again, keep them in their kitchens, keep them working at whatever schedule that their employer’s asking because it’s not, in our industry, we don’t just work 9:00 to 5:00, we have various schedules that we have to abide by.

Tracy Lorenz:
So they would then, again, have a Work & Learn program for their existing employees as well. So Escoffier is one of the only unique providers that can do a talent, a whole end-to-end solution for the industry. And so we’re excited about being that provider. And so one of the things that obviously was to connect on the back end and to ramp up those services. And we’re just going to continue to do that because we really, we have great employer partners. We have access to thousands of thousands of skilled graduates. So newly mented all the way up to sous-chef and exec chef. And so we’re just trying to connect everyone and solve that chef shortage problem that we’re seeing right now.

Todd Zipper:
Yeah. This really fascinating, this employer partner concept for the way you guys are playing it out. So can you walk us a little bit more how that works? Do you have employers knowing they’ve got X number of jobs in these markets, let’s say a hotel chain or something along those lines. And they either, like you said, hire those people into this learn and earn program and, or is it that’s more demand-driven education on the supply side? Are you just educating people and then going to your employer partners and saying, “Hey, we’ve got these people with these skills who want to work in these markets, do we have enough opening for them?” How does it work? Is it either, or, is it both, and?

Tracy Lorenz:
Yeah. I would say the immediate is their biggest pain point is fill my jobs now. So the immediate pain point is, they’ll say, “I have 20 openings across the United States,” which is what our differentiator is because we can do that because we have a career service footprint that works across the nation with our individual students. So immediate pain point, 20, I need up here. I may need them in Houston. I may need them in Chicago. I may need him them in LA. Then we worked backwards and said, “Okay, well let’s look at your long term,” and when I say long term, let’s say three to six months. We’re not talking very long-term right now because we’re dealing with a huge shortage.

Tracy Lorenz:
And then we talk about how we can go ahead and open that up and maybe get into Work & Learn. Again, current employees who need to be skilled up from short course all the way up to degree. And then do you need newly, do you have a high school recruitment program? Or if you have a veteran program. A lot of organizations have certain personnel that they’re trying to recruit into, especially when you think about veterans. And we can do that. We can help degree them, help them, educate them while they’re working in their kitchens. And so I would tell you, to be honest, it’s an immediate fix, their pain point, which is now and then having more of a strategic conversation which quite honestly wasn’t in existence for culinary and hospitality sector. Very common in every other sector to have work and learn programs. But the fact of the matter is, is people really couldn’t imagine that you could do culinary online and they would have to leave school to do a true apprenticeship.

Tracy Lorenz:
So you would leave the kitchen, go to school, leave school, go back into the kitchen so on and so forth. And we’re saying, “Don’t do that. Stay in the kitchen. Don’t step out. One, you probably can’t afford it. Employer can’t afford it. Employee can’t afford it.” And we’re literally wrapped that education around them. So that’s the disruptor, that’s the education that we’re really doing with the industry right now which is extremely exciting for us.

Todd Zipper:
Yeah. I also read one of your program highlights was with entrepreneurial curriculum. Can you talk a little bit about that? Are you helping people to start businesses?

Tracy Lorenz:
Yeah. If you think about the adult learner, the ground campuses, typical high school student who wants a full campus experience, they press pause on their life like we talked about earlier, go to school and then press play. Adult learner, different. They’re either in the industry, they want to make a change. Maybe they always had a passion for culinary and then weren’t able to pursue it and now they’re thinking about it. And so they want to open up their own restaurant.

Tracy Lorenz:
So one of the things that was very important to us, in addition to farm and table, I talked about the importance of having that course and that curriculum in our program was also to teach business skills and entrepreneurship. Not that we don’t want to teach great cooks. So we want them to understand the techniques and do that very well. But in addition to that, they have to understand just general business basics. So we wrap that all the way through the program. And depending on whether they’re a certificate or whether they’re a degree learner, we go into great depths.

Tracy Lorenz:
So now entrepreneurship is one of the things our students say that they choose us. That they come to us because they do want to open up their own business and we help them. So think about food trucks and everything that everyone’s doing, running catering businesses out of their home. There’s a lot of different avenues that people are taking. And so that is one of the areas in which we focus in on.

Todd Zipper:
So I want to switch gears and talk a little bit about the teaching and learning side of the business. As you mentioned, you had a lot to experience, you and your team with online education and with vocational, various vocational training. How did you have to reimagine education and online education to make this work and drive great outcomes for your students?

Tracy Lorenz:
Yeah. So the first thing we had to is debunk the myth that you can’t do vocational education. You can’t assess a student’s work because it’s a hands-on program. So anyone who comes to us and says, “Oh, you can’t do that online. And we love that question. We love to discuss how we are disrupting and going against the grain a bit. I mean, at the very basic level, we looked at all the educational technology. And in my 20 plus years, you can just see the massive amounts of improvement and just the rate of acceleration of that with all the ed tech products out there.

Tracy Lorenz:
And we took a step back and we looked at that and we leveraged some of the very simple tools of the iPhone. And we marry that with our learning management system. And so we also looked at the process of a chef instructor in assessing a student’s work. And if you actually go deep into it, the myth around how do you taste the food, is a chef instructor in a ground institution, actually relies much more heavily on site for evaluation than the actual tasting of the food for various reasons. So if you think about it, think about when you’re at a restaurant and the dish is coming to your table. As it’s being placed down in front of you, you are eating with your eyes first and you’re already making an assessment of whether that is going to taste good or bad in your eyes.

Tracy Lorenz:
So getting down to the actual science around how we do that, we took our chef instructors with our online education experts and brought them together to say, “Okay, let’s really figure out what is the process you go through.” And we have phenomenal advisory board members that have, I would say, are considered old school. “There’s no way that you can do this online.” So we took them and we had them say, why could we not? And tell us about how you evaluate? How do you use the flavor wheel to describe food? When you’re in a kitchen and you have a split second to make a decision of whether you’re going to send that plate out to your patrons, how do you make those decisions? And then when you start to peel back that onion, you realize that it’s much more based on site.

Tracy Lorenz:
So our students are able to take 20 or 30 photos through their iPhone of their entire assignment. So they’ll take a picture of them in their chef uniform, their beanie, their apron on, hair tied back, just as if they’re in a ground institution. They also will take a picture of their sanitation station. All of their ingredients set up, [mise en place 00:22:25] as we call it, and then they document the entire recipe process. They also do a pre and post-narrative, a writeup, which helps with their communication skills and helps them describe what they thought it was going to taste like. And then they use the flavor wheels, a guide to say what it does taste like. So think about that as a [inaudible 00:22:44] how they describe how it tastes and describes wine.

Tracy Lorenz:
So just imagine if a student is cooking a cutlet for their recipe or for their assignment for the week, they take pictures of all of that all the way through. They’ll take a picture of the cutlet in the frying pan. They’ll take it when they cut it open and they’ll show pictures of whether they had juices flowing from the cutlet and they’ll show their vegetable, their starch, their tire process. And then in return, our faculty will basically give them a three to five minute personalized audio and video feedback that talks about what they did well and what they didn’t do well.

Tracy Lorenz:
So for example, if their cutlet was brown on the outer edges, they would say, “You know what? I know you didn’t have your oil set to the right temperature. And oh, by the way, Tracy, I didn’t see a picture where you showed what your temperature of your oil was. So I’m thinking you probably didn’t have it correct. Then when you cut into your cutlet, Tracy, I saw that the juices were not flowing.” So they’ll circle that on the picture and note to the student, “You probably overcooked it.”

Tracy Lorenz:
So they’ll go through this entire 25 to 30 photos and actually write on it and then give them an audio assessment. That is probably more personalized than they will get if they were in a residential campus where they’re sitting around and they’re working in a team of four to five.

Todd Zipper:
Yeah. That’s what I was thinking. You’re talking about a one-to-one relationship here which is, and when education is at its best.

Tracy Lorenz:
Right. And that’s when we take a step back and we survey our students like, “What was it that you loved about Escoffier and your experience in online?” And they will say, “It’s that feedback, that connection I had with my instructor. And there’s nothing better than to hear that an online student says that they felt connected to their faculty member because the counter to that is an online program could be cold, you could be left out on your own, on your own island and you don’t feel the connection into your other students or your faculty member.

Tracy Lorenz:
So that’s kind of our wow moment, our secret sauce we would call it. And that whole assessment process, we’re really proud. We actually submitted that in for an award. And we won an award, which is pretty cool when you think about vocational assessment online, because usually that would be for the business, IT, HR, right? How do they do it? They should have the best practice in assessing student work online. And so extremely proud that we were able to demonstrate the efficacy of that process and demonstrate that we’re doing it well and our students appreciate that.

Todd Zipper:
Yeah. How do you think about scaling with faculty? So there’s obviously this one-to-one instruction, how do you maintain the quality of that instructor to ensure the quality of the student and so on and so forth?

Tracy Lorenz:
Sure. So we’re fortunate that we can have a national footprint of faculty. So they can live at their house. They don’t have to relocate anywhere. So that opens up their recruitment to talented faculty. We also hire them full-time, which is great because we offer benefits and a lot of unique things, gets them out of the industry perhaps. A lot of times the faculty they’ve obviously been in industry or they have a side hustle. So they’re currently doing something on the side as well. Their whole thing about becoming a faculty member, chef instructor is to pay it forward.

Tracy Lorenz:
So they have seen something in their experience and it’s really, it’s coming from a point of gratitude. And so we are fortunate to have a pool of faculty across the United States that we’ve had experience with before that’s open to teaching online. Some of them, this is new to them. They’re used to teaching perhaps in a ground institution, but they recognize that there’s a huge opportunity in the industry to solve a huge problem and they want to be part of the solution. And so we’re really excited about our faculty. We have over 130 of them right now. And we’re actually gathering them together to do one of our first summits post-pandemic. And so we’re excited about getting them together and having an opportunity to talk about best practices in teaching.

Todd Zipper:
Last question on this front, do you send folks, the students the same type of kitchen tools like knives and how to use them and then also the ingredients so everyone one’s having a similar experience?

Tracy Lorenz:
Yeah. So we ship computers if they need them. So we start with the very basic. You have to do an online program, you have to have a computer. Chef coats, knives, small kitchenwares and then an initial pantry kit. And that initial pantry kit came out of the pandemic. We noticed that there was shortages in things like yeast and flour and certain food that they could not get. And we wanted to make sure that those spices and things that were going to be very expensive and they couldn’t find, that they would have that. So we actually worked with the distributor, bought it in bulk and then would send that out to our students.

Tracy Lorenz:
And we’re always evaluating everything that they need to be successful. And we’re always changing that. Now, the perishable ingredients that go week-to-week, so their proteins, they will purchase on their own for the obvious reason. But we make our programs very affordable so that they can afford that. And we work with them to substitute out. So if they come to us and they say, “Chef, I really can’t what you guys are doing for the recipe.” Our chef instructors actually will have a bunch of substitutes for various price ranges.

Tracy Lorenz:
So if a student wants to spend and do maybe more of a higher-end recipe, they can do that with a higher-end protein versus a lower-end protein. And that actually teaches them some real-world experience when they get into the industry because they’re having to do that all the time based on the availability of local ingredients, our faculty love to call that one of their teaching moments, but we want to make sure we’re sending everything to the students. And then we survey them. “Did you have everything that you needed? What would you have needed if we didn’t send it to you.” So that constant communication and surveying and doing that feedback loop helps us keep us on our toes about what would make sense to send it to the students during their program.

Todd Zipper:
So you mentioned the pandemic. I feel like I have an analogy around Escoffier being the shrimp boat from the Tom Hanks movie, Forrest Gump, where everyone has to go online and there’s only one real place to train folks. So what happened? When that happened and folks were obviously looking for education, looking for jobs, how did the school do in that moment and how are you doing now that we’re getting back to some sort of normal?

Tracy Lorenz:
So I’ll start with, we had to go through the same thing as everyone else who had traditional ground schools. So we have two schools, Austin and in Boulder. And fortunate for us, we had the online capabilities that you’re mentioning. So we had to flip them online. But those students and those faculty were used to going to a residential school. They were used to that experience, what that afforded them. And so we had to go through and go through the same process that probably every other school had to go through overnight and flip students as well as faculty, the experience.

Tracy Lorenz:
And so we used the best practices that we had. So we shipped ingredients, shipped them, all of their equipment, their computers. Then we used our best online teaching best practices and then taught our ground faculty to be online faculty because they were separate faculty groups. And then we just went from there and we listened to our students. And so some students said, “You know what, I’m going to take a leave of absence and I’m going wait.” Because back then we didn’t know how long it was going to be.

Tracy Lorenz:
And so we would come back to them and say, “We have this option, please. And there are jobs. So think about the pandemic.” Front of the house, unfortunately got decimated. Back in the house, we pivoted the way that we ate. So off-premise dining. And so while there were fewer jobs as we can imagine, we were still placing students into kitchens and into opportunities if they wanted. So there were jobs, we were trying to graduate our current pipeline of students. So we were fortunate that we never had to stop operations for those ground schools.

Tracy Lorenz:
And then for our online, as you can imagine, we were the only place in town literally and figuratively. And so people had a lot of time on their hands. And for those who wanted to go back to school, we were a place for them to go, a choice. And so we were fortunate. We were already growing. So to kind of set the stage, our growth rate prior to the pandemic was substantial. So going into, knowing that there was all of a sudden a pandemic, no one knew that online education was going to take off so great. I think the biggest benefit for us was not just the growth, but it was the people understanding the benefits of online education and what it could do for us.

Tracy Lorenz:
And so if anything, it just accelerated the conversation that we were already having, the education we were having about, “We can do it online. Look at us, we’re graduating great students.” And they’re sitting on the line with our residential campus students. And so 90% of employers would hire an online graduate. We were saying all of that, but to be able to demonstrate it and prove it, so that’s probably their biggest benefit of the pandemic. And now that we’ve come out of it, I would tell you even our residential campuses, very careful to revert to the old way of doing something. So while they may have kind of begrudgingly came online, now they’re kind of saying, “Well, let’s not do it fully on ground anymore.”

Tracy Lorenz:
So in those cases, and I’m sure we’re seeing it in other program areas, I think hybrid is here to stay. So balancing what really they wanted from a campus experience whilst augmenting with some sort of online experience. And so our residential campuses are going through a hybrid experience that they’re pretty excited about.

Todd Zipper:
Yeah, that’s really fantastic. So I think you’re around 6,000 online students or something in that vicinity. And when you think about how many, you can’t bring artificial intelligence in yet at least to replace chefs. How big can this market get for Escoffier? And just in general, how many students do you think this can get to?

Tracy Lorenz:
It’s huge. When we look at the actual number of jobs, so you look at the number of jobs and then you look at people seeking to go to school. And when you bring that together, it can be well over a 100,000 people going to school for culinary. I think that’s going to grow because what we did see from pre-pandemic to post-pandemic is the change in the employer’s mind of skilled talent. There used to be a real thought of, “Maybe you don’t need to go to culinary school. You can just get on the line and learn with everyone else.” Well now, we need you skilled right now. So we need you yesterday’s skilled, not tomorrow skilled.

Tracy Lorenz:
So now all of a sudden, as I mentioned, they’re saying, 80% of their jobs, they want to have someone credentialed. And so I think it’s an and, and not an or. I think that there’s a huge gap in the supply. Something that we haven’t talked about is over the past few years, we have seen a mass exodus of culinary schools closing, which created, even pre-pandemic chef shortage and then an increase in people dining out in some of the trends in that which then further made it the gap between supply and demand.

Tracy Lorenz:
Now we’re looking at what community colleges are doing locally, what we’re doing nationally and locally as well as what some of the higher-end culinary schools. And I would say it’s an and, and not an or. We have a lot of opportunity to grow. We’re actually now about nearing 8,000. So the next milestone will be 10,000 for us. When I joined in 2017, we were well under 1,000, and that was primarily our residential campuses. So the fact that we’ve been able to scale, I don’t like to use the word grow too much because I think you can grow without having a focus of student outcomes. And we’re very centered around student outcomes as we talk a lot about scale all the way through the student journey.

Tracy Lorenz:
So you start actually with the end in mind. You don’t start with the front end, you start with what jobs are out there? What is the pay scale? And then start our programs around addressing those needs. And then you work in the front end to build your entire process all the way from your admissions counselors, your financial aid counselors, your life coaches, which are student coaches, your faculty, and then equally important in that entire value support system is your career service assistant who helps you get that job, that externship and the permanent placement.

Tracy Lorenz:
So for us, the opportunity is huge. In 2017, we were the only players out there. And in 2021, we’re still the only accredited. There’s a lot of substitutes and lookalikes, but not anyone that’s fully accredited to have a fully online program. And we’re enjoying a lot of that, at the same time being very grounded in student outcomes and making sure that we’re offering great programs that deliver great service to our students.

Todd Zipper:
Yeah. Can we build off of that outcomes as you’re right? And then when you study higher ed, it’s often input driven, enrollment-funded driven, not actually based on the outcomes that they deliver. So how do you track that? How do you advertise that? In terms of graduation rates or job placement rates, salaries, is there a way to think about how you show your world what you’re producing in terms of outcomes?

Tracy Lorenz:
Yeah. I would tell you that, again, we start at the end in mind. And so it first starts with the job outcomes, understanding the return on education dollars. So what’s that tuition cost going to be. And the fact that we have a really affordable tuition helps us with everything as it relates to the job outcomes. And so if we can place them and we’re required to place 70% of our students in the field in which they studied. No problem there, we do that. We also then, when you think about the actual salary rate, I know there’s a lot of discussions about minimum wage, $15. I think right now, what you’re seeing in your community, as you said, you seeing a lot of for hire signs. And you’re also seeing a lot of for hire signs with a 401(k), flexible scheduling, much more higher than $15.

Tracy Lorenz:
And so all of those, I think, benefit our students coming out of that. In terms of how do we track and why we track and how we do that, one we’re required to do that. If we remember back when we were talking about how we even got here, we had to have a formal system of tracking all of that data and then using that data to improve our programs because we didn’t get it right on the first try. Anyone who says that they did is telling you a lie. It’s an iterative process and we still are iterating. I think that that’s important in a company that supports innovation and a culture of that you have to continually innovate and change things and move them and listen to your students and don’t always buy your own commercial, right?

Tracy Lorenz:
So change when you need to change, but don’t just change for change sake. So we’re constantly looking at student outcomes. Student outcomes are a lagging metric. So if you don’t have leading metrics all the way through to indicate, so persistence, students surveys. We survey our students three weeks into their course, two simple questions, are you learning and are you supporting? And you can learn a lot about that. So if they say they are supporting and they’re not learning, not good. If they say the opposite, again, not good. And so we are constantly tracking our students all the way through. We look at assignment quizzes, recipe, assignment results. And if they’re not doing well and it’s across all sections, we’ll take that out and we’ll look at, and do a deep dive. We’ll have our faculty say, “Well, why didn’t that work? Oh, well, it’s, you know what? Because that content didn’t match the assignment.” Or vice versa.

Tracy Lorenz:
So there’s a lot of science in it and very similar to every other education institution, you have to have the data. And if you have the data, which we all do, and you’re not using the data, that’s a problem. So we’re tracking. And then ultimately you get to the end. You get to completion rates and graduation rates. For us, completion rate has to be 67%. And if you understand online learning, that’s a very high bar.

Todd Zipper:
Very high bar. Yeah.

Tracy Lorenz:
Yeah. Very high bar.

Todd Zipper:
Especially at the undergraduate level.

Tracy Lorenz:
Right. Right. And so we’re very fortunate to be able to achieve that, but it’s with a lot of resources, a lot of focus and a lot of people thinking about that. If you ask anyone from my admissions reps to my career service reps, they’re going to say what’s the most important thing and they’re going to say, “Retain.” They’re not going to say, “Start a student.” They’re going to say, “Retain a student.” Because that’s our moral report card. I know it sounds kind of cliche, but it is. At the end of the day, if they came to become a chef and they leave with a lot of debt and they don’t get their job, then we didn’t do our job.

Tracy Lorenz:
So one of the things we do do that’s I think very compliance friendly is we have, and I haven’t heard of this one, we have a four-week free conditional trial period for our students. So they come in, they come into school, we admit them conditionally, if you think about it. So they get all the stuff sent to them and they go to school for 30 days. And during that period of time, they have to be passing their classes, they have to be doing the work. They have to figure out, of the 168 hours in a week, how am I going to find that 15 to 20 hours to do work? It doesn’t just happen. You actually have to do the work to get the work, to get the credential.

Tracy Lorenz:
And so it’s a nice period of time where students can go through and we can evaluate and they can evaluate. So it’s kind of like a dating period. And at the end of that period, if they’re not passing their class, they don’t have any debt. They’re not charged. If they continue to move forward, that’s when they are formally admitted into the school and charged. So it’s like a no loan, no debt free trial period. And we’re proud of that because it’s the right thing to do, especially in today’s day and age when you think about the cost of education and outcomes.

Todd Zipper:
Absolutely. I mean, even you talked about the externships and a try, before you buy trial. For employers, this is the, on the front end for the student. And you’re certainly putting skin in the game if you’re sending them materials, you’re putting faculty against it. So you guys are absolutely incented to do right there, but at least, and we know in online education that the single most determining factor of success is that they’ve already demonstrated success in it online. So that’s exactly what you’re proving out. Just, question on funding models. I mean, obviously this is a very affordable program, I guess, roughly 10,000 or so a year. Have you thought about models like an income share agreement, a way to even continue to even shift the risks around to be more outcomes based?

Tracy Lorenz:
Yeah, I would say we haven’t gone to income share agreements yet. I think for us right now, working with the industry to have them help sponsor. So we sponsor, we’ll give scholarships, we’ll sponsor employees, and then they can also sponsor their employees, I think is an untapped area right now versus going to income share agreements, which are more the back end, but that’s a good way to do work and learn programs because again, we’re unique in that. So that’s where we’re looking at right now. And a lot of our focus is, is educating our employers on that ROI for them, for investing in their employees or soon to be employees and getting those retention benefits out of that.

Todd Zipper:
And these national corporations that you guys partner with, a lot of them, most of them have the tuition classic benefit of 5250 so you’re able to tap into that, correct?

Tracy Lorenz:
Absolutely. A lot of times we’re educating them on that as well. That’s an unused benefit. So it’s not something that has to come out of an organizational training or development budget, it’s usually sits in and housed in HR as a benefit that sometimes goes unused. So the fact that they can tap into those the 5250 per year as a tax option I think is really a good idea. And again, new to our industry, that’s where we’re playing a role in.

Todd Zipper:
So we’re getting ready to wrap up here. So what is next on the horizon for Escoffier in terms of subject matter, markets serving, going global? What are you thinking?

Tracy Lorenz:
Yeah. So one, we’re very stateside with Escoffier, with Auguste Escoffier School Of Culinary Arts. That name is a worldwide and probably recognized even better outside of the United States. And so we’re definitely looking at options of taking the brand in internationally as it relates to program. The one thing we’ve learned, I think all of us have learned during the pandemic is the role food can play in medicine and health. And so we just recently launched our plant-based program, very consistent with our farm-to-table sustainability core value. So we’re excited about that. We’re looking at holistic and nutrition programs and anything in the health and wellness because we think we can better cook and eat healthier. So those are areas of expansion for us right now.

Todd Zipper:
I’m a customer of Sakara which is a vegan plant-place delivery service. I bet you, they need some cooks because they’re they’re growing a lot. So this is a little off topic, but I read that you have completed seven Ironman Triathlons. That is amazing. I’ve completed a few of them as well which are pretty hard. So how have those competitions helped you throughout your personal and professional journey, especially what you’re up to right now?

Tracy Lorenz:
Yeah. So first I love to meet other Ironman. It is a crazy club. And for me I kind of just stumbled into it. I wasn’t an endurancy athlete early in my life. When I met my husband, he was doing duathlons and also doing some running. And so he said, “Hey, I’m going to do a five mile race. Do you want to do it with me?” And I said, “No, no. I do three miles and I’m a jogger. I’m not a runner, I’m a jogger.” So I thought, “Well, I’m pretty competitive. I don’t want to say no. We’re dating.” And so I said, “Sure, I’ll go ahead and do this race.” Had no idea that people would pay $25 to run in a race and then get into cotton t-shirt.

Tracy Lorenz:
So I kind of showed up for that first race. There was 8,000 people at this race. It was a big race in Chicago. The gun went off and I was hooked. I loved, loved that running with people, trying to pass people. It was the competitive spirit, it was collaboration, it was fun. And for us it became more social. So I’ve met my best friends through the community and we just went from there. So we started, again, three-mile jogger to five-mile race to doing Sprint Triathlons and then worked our way up all the way to Ironman. And I would tell you, I still take a step back and don’t really comprehend how a body can do that. But there is a lot of mental, if not probably more mental.

Tracy Lorenz:
And so I just love that. I think it represents our whole family, those triathlons. And so I guess some families play tennis together or golf together and our family just rallies around the sport. So for us it’s what we do. And again, we found our best friends through the sport. And for us, it’s just of a lifelong thing that we’re doing. We’re not winning, we’re not placing and we’re not going to Kona. Although I guess my co my husband did do Kona one year, but for us it’s more about what it represents the goal setting and achieving those. That’s pretty cool for us.

Todd Zipper:
Yeah. That’s awesome. So final question, I ask this of all my guests. Part of what we love about education is that we all have learning champions. So who has been a learning champion for you and how has that person helped you in your life?

Tracy Lorenz:
Yeah. So admittedly, I did not know a lot about my learning champion story initially. I had just been promoted and I had just been given an office. And so I thought, “Oh my gosh, I have to decorate this office. And it has to be professional. And it has to represent who I am personally.” So I go to the store and I’m looking for just the right tchotchkes, the right balance of the two. And I saw this quote and I was like, “Okay, that…” There wasn’t a better quote that kind of summed me up and what I kind of strived throughout, I would say my professional and personal career. And that quote was, “You must do one thing you think you cannot do,” which is by Eleanor Roosevelt.

Tracy Lorenz:
And so I think her quote while quite simple can apply to all of us. When you think about even babies, no baby is born and knows everything. And so when you think about that commitment to learning and that fear and that lack of confidence that you have, maybe because you didn’t know, we weren’t born lawyers, doctors, chefs, we weren’t born with a skill, you have to learn the skill. And so I think, again, back to my professional and personal life, and that quote just kind of is pretty much sums it up. I mean, I went from jogger to Ironman and I went from an accountant to a CEO.

Tracy Lorenz:
And so those things, and it wasn’t quite the straight journey. And I’ll be honest, I didn’t have the confidence when I was going through it that I was going to make it, either one of those. And so I would just say that that’s, I think we can all learn from that and just take a chill pill. You’re going to learn, if you’re willing to learn you’re going to do great things.

Todd Zipper:
Tracy, thank you so much for your time and for speaking with me today. I’ve learned so much and find what Escoffier has accomplished, really interesting. Others need to take notice in other areas that they think can’t be taught online. They should talk to you, Tracy. So until next time, this has been An Educated Guest.

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