Defending Beauty Schools



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The most heavily regulated sector of the beauty industry is education. Beauty schools not only have to abide by all of the State Board regulations governing salons, they have to deal with additional rules governing their finances, marketing and student contracts.

As for-profit entities, private beauty colleges have been under the regulatory microscope for decades. Those policymakers who are uncomfortable with mixing profit motive and education have in recent years stepped up their scrutiny. There have been investigative reports and national stories on some of the bad actors in the for-profit, vocational education sector (not beauty colleges) that have been less than flattering. This has led to politicians getting into the act, which has amounted to growing reams of red-tape encircling all of these vocational-training institutions, because government always paints in broad strokes.

None had been more onerous than an Obama-era, federal regulation implemented by the US Department of Education known as Gainful Employment (“GE”). Without going into detail, this rule placed limits on how much a student could take out in loans based on the government’s determination of the earning capacity of the career pathway being pursued.

While this limit may seem reasonable enough, especially since taxpayers ultimately back all student loans thanks to a little known provision of the original ObamaCare legislation, the reality of our predominantly-cash industry is the federal government has a very distorted understanding of a stylist’s true earning capacity. That’s because many of our licensees, while salt of the earth kind of people, aren’t anxious to keep and disclose precise records for purposes of income tax liability. Whether it’s avoiding disclosing tips or even some of their fees for services rendered, the fact is that government doesn’t have a reliable way of determining the actual income earned by behind-the-chair professionals.

Not to be deterred by this reality, the US Department of Education (DoE) forged ahead with their problematic GE ratios, relying on very flawed income estimates reported to federal agencies. These arbitrary and inaccurate hurdles placed many students in jeopardy of losing access to federally backed loans to complete their chosen field of study, and none more so than beauty college students.

Fortunately for beauty students and the schools that serve them, the Trump Administration reversed this onerous regulation. Reacting to this, the brains behind the Obama DoE regulations are now actively lobbying State Legislatures throughout the country to adopt identical GE and similar limitations, only on a state-by-state basis. In Sacramento, this group have sponsored a package of seven bills to reinstitute and even go beyond the past Administration’s federal regulations of vocational colleges.

The employers and individual licensees that form my organization have taken a strong position of opposition on three of those seven bills to protect the primary pipeline of future stylists, i.e., our privately owned beauty schools. While this hasn’t exactly ingratiated the PBFC to our state policymakers, it is our duty to explain the unintended consequences of imposing at the state level these arbitrary regulations that will disproportionately impact our industry, given the cash nature of salons and the understated income of individual stylists (most of whom are independently operating booth renters).

Regardless of whether you’re a fan of beauty schools or private vocational institutions, in general, the fact is these schools serve a student population that was often marginalized by the K-12 public education system. Many of those who eventually enrolled in a beauty college had no desire to pursue a career requiring a bachelors or post-graduate degree. Perhaps they didn’t enjoy theoretical academics, and therefore lacked the prerequisites to even apply to a four-year institutions of higher learning; or maybe they had always known they wanted to be a hairdresser.

All too many who made such a choice have been looked down upon by school officials and even some of their peers. They’re surrounded by a culture saturated with a condescending attitude toward vocational pursuits, constantly hearing the message parroted by school counselors, Hollywood and media pundits the only path to enlightenment and economic success must lead through a four-year university.

So whether they found beauty school as a last resort or an affirmative choice made long before they enrolled, our industry — and in particular our beauty colleges — have welcomed all who show a commitment and ability to succeed in the world of beauty.

These students and the career choices they have made should be celebrated, as should those institutions that help them attain their vocational goals. Combined, these behind-the-chair professionals in embryo and the beauty colleges that prepare them have established the most reliable workforce development pipeline of our industry. Anything that discourages our students or hampers the schools that serve them should be resisted and challenged at every turn.