Posted byStaff December 28, 2020 in Posted in Culinary Arts 0 New England Culinary Institute to close down in the spring – vtdigger.org The New England Culinary Institute, a Montpelier-based cooking school, is closing its doors after just over 40 years. “The pandemic proved to be the burden that we could not overcome,” NECI president Milan Milasinovic wrote in a statement posted to the school’s website. The school shuttered its retail operations in March, he added, “which severely limited our ability to continue to deliver a college level, hands on culinary education, on an economically viable basis.” Most NECI students graduated in December, Milasinovic wrote in an email to VTDigger, and only five remain, all currently placed in apprenticeships and on track to graduate this spring. All students will be given the chance to finish out their programs. Once the school closes for good, NECI student records will be kept at the North Coast College in Cleveland, Ohio, according to Milasinovic. NECI merged with the then-Virginia Marti College of Art and Design in 2017. VMCAD has since been rebranded as North Coast College, and recently started its own culinary program. Milasinovic, who is president of both schools, said there are only five employees left at NECI – including himself – all of whom are supporting NCC. At least three will continue to work for the Ohio college once NECI closes. The school was founded in 1980 by Francis Voigt, his wife Ellen Bryant Voigt (a Vermont poet laureate), and John Dranow and his then-wife Louise Glück (a 2020 Nobel prize winner). Dranow was ousted from the business in 1998 after his divorce from Glück. Francis Voigt died of cancer in 2018. Glück and Bryant Voigt are no longer shareholders, Milasinovic said. The prestigious culinary school is often credited with playing a key role in fostering Vermont’s now-thriving – at least pre-pandemic – local food scene. Its alumni include celebrity chefs Alton Brown and Gavin Kaysen, but many graduates stuck around in Vermont, creating well-known local restaurants like Cafe Provence in Brandon and Mirabelles Bakery in South Burlington. Despite the school’s influence and reputation, it has been struggling for some time, and rumors of its imminent demise have been circulating for years. A 2014 cover story by Seven Days noted that enrollment had dropped precipitously as competition entered the market and students shied away from taking on large debts given the industry’s low entry-level wages. The school had been steadily shrinking its footprint in downtown Montpelier, where it once operated several eateries, and has had a string of short-lived leaders in the last decade. The most recent, Milasinovic, came on in 2016. VTDigger is underwritten by: In the months preceding the school’s announcement that it would close, accreditors had taken notice of the school’s ailing finances and management woes. In June, the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges issued a public warning to NECI, citing the school for failing to issue refunds it owed to students and inconsistently awarding scholarships, among other problems. Several refunds, accreditors noted, were more than several months late as of March. In its warning letter, accreditors expressed frustration with the prolonged back-and-forth it had had with the school’s leaders about outstanding questions, writing that it “found the school’s incomplete response to be an ongoing pattern of the school’s new ownership and management team.” The ACCSC is a national accrediting body for career and technical schools. Maintaining accreditation is technically voluntary, but it is necessary for colleges to receive federal financial aid dollars – a key source of revenue – and is also generally considered a minimum marker of quality. “The Commission is left with an impression that the financial structure of the school may not be sound and that the school may not have resources sufficient for the proper operation of the school and the discharge of obligations to its students,” Michale McComis, the executive director of ACCSC, wrote to NECI in June. Milasinovic wrote in his email that the school had “delivered all what was requested to ACCSC” and was now in good standing and “no longer on warning” with the accreditor. If you want to keep tabs on Vermont’s education news, sign up here to get a weekly email with all of VTDigger’s reporting on higher education, early childhood programs and K-12 education policy.