Chicago Culinary SchoolsHi-
I just read your post and thought I'd give you my perspective. I hope it helps you. First and foremost, you do not need a culinary degree to be a chef (though there are some people out there who will disagree), I know plenty of people with degrees from CIA, Kendall, CHIC (now LCB Chicago BTW) IIA and many others who don't know a chefs knife from a butter knife. Now, that isn't to say it can't be a useful tool...that depends on how aggressive you are and if you don't mind certain people not taking you seriously. If you are aggressive and confident even those people may be convinced.
For the record, I graduated from CHIC, I enjoyed my time there...but that is not to say there were not some issues. Mainly they would do a lot better if they fired the entire admissions department and started over. They are all idiots. That is why you rarely see an enrolled student ever cross the threshold into their offices. But, I will say this, the instructors are top notch. One thing I know has changed is they now offer a certificate program, because of this they have record enrollment and not enough supplies to go around. Though, there are few schools that have robocoups for the entire class. I graduated a few years ago, and have worked my way up to Exec. Pastry Chef and Operations Manager. I feel like I got my moneys worth, but it is really what you put in that determines what you get out of it.
For another perspective, I know someone enrolled at IIA, she hates it because she feels they spend too much time teaching things you already know before letting you get your hands dirty.
I also have two friends who graduated from Kendall. One has his own restaurant and the other struggles to do the most basic of tasks on the line. For the record they started together and took each class together, so they got the same education, but not the same results. Again you get what you put in...they can only teach you what you want to learn.
Last, I have taught classes for common threads, and they use the facilities at Washburne...they have by far the best facilities for the price tag. Kendall is state of the art, but they have been terminating a lot of there long term employees to save cash and I heard they have shut down their restuarant, which to me was the best thing about Kendalls program.
So, in the long run...do what is best for you. If you want a degree to fall back on go with the school you feel most comfortable with financially and personally. Try to get a tour where you can see a class being taught and talk to students and instructors. And, if you have an industry job that you enjoy and you are learning from...learn as much as you can. I hope this helps you. Best of luck and have fun.