Amid upheavals in the restaurant industry, NMC seeks to reinvent the culinary institute, Lobdell’s



Seismic changes in the restaurant and hospitality industry in the wake of the pandemic are also impacting other areas, including culinary schools. Northwestern Michigan College – which faces the same challenges of declining enrollment and a growing deficit that recently forced Washtenaw Community College to end its culinary program – Charts a new future for the Great Lakes Culinary Institute (GLCI) and Lobdell’s teaching restaurant that could portend major changes in program and operations on the horizon.

Enrollment in GLCI’s Culinary Arts Associate Program has steadily declined over the past seven years, from 131 students in fall 2014 to 56 students in fall 2020, according to the vice president of student services and from NMC Technologies, Todd Neibauer. Enrollment in the Culinary Arts Certificate program increased from 27 to 11 students during the same period. Meanwhile, the program’s deficit fell from $ 59,166 in 2014 to $ 303,480 in 2020.

“The norm at NMC is that professional programs do not exceed an annual general fund grant of more than $ 150,000,” says Neibauer. “While GLCI has always received a grant from the general fund, unfortunately GLCI has exceeded the standard limit since 2016. With the impact of the pandemic on the entire college budget, it has become clear that we need to make changes. most important to GLCI. “

Earlier this year, NMC President Nick Nissley asked GLCI Director Leslie Eckert to go through a three-month process called ‘Reimagining GLCI’ which gathered feedback from various stakeholder groups. – including local employers, students, alumni and professors – and used a “data-driven approach” to analyze the entire department. The process generated a multi-year plan to meet three main goals: increase enrollment, increase revenue, and reduce costs – especially labor costs in the department.

“This is a two-pronged approach phased in over the next three years,” says Nissley. “The first thing is the programmatic updates. How do you make sure the program and courses match what students are looking for? And then there are changes in Lobdell’s operations. The 90-seat teaching restaurant overlooking Grand Traverse Bay has long been popular with students and locals alike, but is an “underutilized asset,” says Nissley. “Over 365 days, we operate in space only a third of the time. How can we optimize this space, with maybe a catering operation (all year round) or a catering operation or an event space, so that it is something that generates additional income? “

The Reimagining GLCI committee has been tasked with presenting a new plan for Lobdell’s by next March. Also on the to-do list: halve the ministry’s deficit to $ 150,000 over the next three years and find a way to cut labor costs. “Is this going to have an impact on employment at GLCI? No, ”Nissley said. “There will be no layoffs and the plan does not prescribe any. But we need to be careful and manage our labor costs more closely. “

For Eckert, the Reimagining GLCI process is another twist in a volatile two-year journey at the head of the department, with only a handful of months under his belt in 2019 before the pandemic strikes in early 2020. “That’s a lot. , because I didn’t. I didn’t get the chance to see the program run at full capacity, ”she says. “But I’m going to look at this and have an advantage is that I haven’t had a chance to model how it should be. Starting new, maybe that will help me out. accept more change. It’s a stressful situation, but closing just isn’t an option. We have this phenomenal space, and it just needs to be revamped and revamped. We had a great model before, but it is no longer viable.

Nissley and Eckert predict that changes are planned not only to the content of programming at GLCI, but also to the model by which instruction is delivered. “People are more interested in sustainability, health and nutrition, plant-based menus, hands-on learning,” says Nissley. “How do we integrate this? It could be more internships, more day schools, more creative ways to market and sell the school. Eckert says higher education data across fields reflects a shift in perspective among students, many of whom are not “interested in a long-term degree” but rather in short-term intensive program blocks, specialty certificates and one-off training programs.

“Instead of the only way to come (to GLCI) for a year or two, some people might want to come to a learning center for a month or two to improve their skills and enter the world of work.” , explains Eckert. Given the proliferation of home chefs and foodies, especially in the Traverse City area, GLCI could also offer ‘master classes’ with professional chefs or short-term learning programs for enthusiasts who wish something more in-depth than a two hour extended training course. but less intensive than a full-time diploma program. “Not everyone wants to be a chef, but a lot of people want to be involved in food in one way or another,” Eckert explains.

Everyone The teleprinter who we spoke with at NMC strongly emphasized the importance of GLCI to the college and the community. Graduates went on to launch S2S Sugar 2 Salt, The Towne Plaza, Smoke & Porter, Rose and Fern, and Nittolo’s Pizza, to name just a few. “One of the benefits of this process has been to gain the support that not only NMC, but GLCI especially in the community,” says Eckert. “When I say community, it includes those who work in the job market, in the advisory board (GLCI), in the restaurant industry, in farmers, in local agriculture. All these companies that interconnect in one way or another. Neibauer points out that while the Culinary School is “expensive to operate,” it offers many other benefits to NMC, including increased enrollment in general education courses, increased housing on campus, and increased participation in courses. student activities.

With so many local hotel companies struggling to hire employees, Nissley says GLCI remains an important pipeline of workers for the community. “Local employers are counting on us… and these restaurants help support the local economy and our vitality as a community,” he says. He notes that NMC’s maritime and air programs have also struggled in the past, but have managed to reinvent themselves. Nissley is convinced that GLCI can do the same. “Failure is not an option,” he says. Eckert agrees, saying reversing the program “is not such a big challenge that we can’t overcome it”.

“The food will always be there and we will always want it,” she said. “It’s up to us to keep our momentum going. We have to change over time. “


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