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After staff and students push back, Seattle Culinary Academy will continue enrollment in the fall

Students and staff say closing the program will hurt Seattle restaurants that rely on the school for staff and training.

SEATTLE — A culinary program at Seattle Central College that faced being cut will enroll students in the fall, according to a statement from the school.

Proposed cuts to technical programs such as the Seattle Culinary Academy were made as school administration worked to balance the budget. However, there are no longer recommended program closures for fiscal year 2022-23, according to the school's statement.

Instead of eliminating technical programs, the school's executive team recommended cutting administrative costs, aligning class schedules with enrolment, and restructuring how money is spent for some programs. 

Dozens of people gathered in Seattle Wednesday to protest the proposed cuts to technical programs, including the Seattle Culinary Academy (SCA), which was on the list. 

The culinary program has taught more than 5,000 graduates in an 81-year history, which includes many of Seattle's top chefs. The school's website says 97% of students are placed in jobs. 

Students and staff say closing the program would create another problem for the restaurant industry, which is already struggling because of the pandemic. 

"The whole industry is really hurting and it needs these graduates. They're such an important part of the workforce," said SCA student Michael Silver, prior to the school's statement.

"The graduates here are entering the workforce here. They're entering the industry. They're creating their own restaurants, their own food trucks. They're investing themselves here and they all started at Seattle Central," said student Gabriella Leyva. 

Students, staff and local chefs worked to save the program, starting a petition, which they planed to share with the Seattle College District chancellor, Shouan Pan. Pan will decide whether to accept the new proposals that avoid program cuts.

"This is a successful, historical program and we're going to cut it? It's baffling," said chef and author Becky Selengut before the school announced it would continue enrollment in the fall. 

Selengut is a graduate of SCA and a former instructor. She said the program is tightly intertwined within Seattle's food scene and that graduates are filling local restaurant jobs. 

"It's accessible. it's affordable and it's serving, largely systemically underserved and under-resourced students," said Selengut. 

"My classmates are made up of a diverse group of people where for the first time I feel seen and I don't feel invisible. That is kind of priceless," said student Jenny Zhang. Zhang was a doctor and this fall she enrolled at SCA to follow her passion for food. 

Students and alumni know there's a price to keep SCA afloat. The school says SCA is one of their higher-cost programs. It was subsidized by international student enrollment, which dropped significantly. 

"We need the state to allocate more money to community colleges or we need an endowment of many millions of dollars to keep this program going years into the future," said Selengut.

"We shouldn't be cutting education. There's so many people in this world who can fund this, can fund education, all over the states. It's so silly to think we can't get education funded. It's beyond me," said Leyva.  

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