By Kathy Chow
May 15, 2019 at 5:00 am ET
Look into the windows of a cosmetology school and you’ll find thousands of creative, innovative and hard-working students learning the technical training and skills to begin a rewarding career in the beauty industry. For many cosmetology students, they graduate ready to fulfill the American dream of opening their own salon, spa or barbershop.
Hair salons and barbershops sit at the center of the American main street, bringing communities together and creating local jobs. In fact, the beauty industry employs over 1.2 million men and women nationwide, and through professional education at a cosmetology school, students are provided with the tools and opportunities to become a part of this rapidly growing industry.
However, recently proposed legislation in Congress that is intended to address bad actors in other areas of the education industry would have a misguided and overreaching effect, significantly harming our growing industry. For example, the 90/10 rule restricts proprietary schools from enrolling over a certain number of students eligible for Title IV federal aid. To comply, after they reach the threshold, schools are forced to deny students who rely on federal aid. This significantly disadvantages lower-income students, pressuring them to turn to the private-loan market or denying them the opportunity to attend school altogether. While it’s important to root out bad actors and predatory educational institutions, these proposals would threaten the viability of legitimate, well-intentioned and reputable schools — making it increasingly difficult for our industry to survive and continue to serve our students.
In today’s economic landscape, the cosmetology industry stands out. The beauty industry offers good-paying jobs that aren’t susceptible to automation trends or overseas outsourcing. While technological advances in automation have hurt employment outlooks for many industries, the growth of the beauty industry has led to a highly positive job outlook among barbers, hairstylists and cosmetologists alike.
It’s estimated that this growth will only continue, with jobs in the beauty industry expected to grow by 13 percent between 2016 and 2026 — a far higher rate than the national average.
As an alternative to a traditional four-year college, cosmetology schools also offer shorter, more affordable programs with most schooling completed in less than a year and costing less than $20,000. Meanwhile, costs for traditional four-year colleges skyrocketed nearly 260 percent between 1980 and 2014. According to College Board, public colleges now cost over $26,000 per year for out-of-state students, and private colleges cost an average of $35,000 per year.
Importantly, cosmetology schools provide a pathway to long-term careers for those from low-income families who otherwise might not have the financial opportunity to attend a traditional, four-year college. And successful completion of cosmetology school allows students to graduate job-ready and with significantly less debt than their counterparts who attended a four-year college.
Education trends are shifting, and students are re-examining their post-secondary education options, opting instead for trade and vocational schools which offer focused career pathways and hands-on learning. Instead of passing unnecessary, misguided regulations which will close the door for countless future students, let’s work together to find comprehensive solutions to continue to increase graduation rates, provide financial aid to students who need to access an education and support students on their path to success.
Overall, the beauty industry supports nearly two million jobs and generates more than $85.8 billion in sales, impacting nearly every American in one form or another. Nearly all cosmetology school owners are small business owners which means not only are they deeply invested in the success of their students but also the success of their communities. By continuing to provide this important educational opportunity, we can continue to reduce barriers of entry to the workforce while readying a new generation to fuel a vibrant industry.
Kathy Chow is the executive director of the American Association of Cosmetology Schools.
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