Business Management

What’s Wrong With Our Schools?

Unqualified instructors, unmotivated students, outdated curricula, impractical testing, and student loan abuse are only some of the problems with cosmetology school education. Reform is not likely to start with the government, but from within the industry itself.

“The most important thing,” says Mack, “is to be in close touch with salons. Owners are always in touch with us about what they want out of our students. Our school owners meet regularly with salon owners. What we’re hearing lately is that students need more retailing experience. So we’ve had companies come to the school and train our students on how to use a product then how to sell it.”

Teachers need continuing education just as graduates do. Schools that provide continuing education for their instructors involve them in curriculum decisions and administrative duties are rewarded with committed instructors. The American School of Nail Technology and Cosmetology in Akron, Ohio, keeps teachers motivated with continuous in-house education and motivational meetings.

Enduring, universal change must come at a national level. Although state governments don’t seem to put a high priority on cosmetology issues, they may have to start paying more attention as consumers (their constituents) become ever more concerned about the safety of salons.

An interesting example of this is the furor over the recent news linking hair color and lymphoma (although just bout everyone has refuted the report’s methods and its findings). And, one only has to open the latest issue of any fashion magazine to see that bad nail care is a major concern for today’s young female consumers. Too much of this bad press and legislators may decide to take another look at cosmetology reform. Although licensing is the presumed first step toward industry legitimization, reforming our educational system is surely the next one.


In a state licensed less than a year, Pivot Point Beauty School in Chicago has a list of salons waiting for its graduates. The school provides high-quality education and high-quality graduates with a curriculum that balances technical skills and people skills.

Curriculum. Pivot Point director of education Debbie Mack says, “We train students in all facets of cosmetology – including business skills, how to retail, how to get along with people.” Besides classes in nail technology, the school offers workshops that focus on client relations, including role-playing exercises. Students are trained to understand classic personality types and tailor their sales and service techniques to those individuals. Mandatory communication workshops show students how to conduct client consultations, read body language, and deal with upset clients. The school routinely invites industry celebrities to conduct seminars for student; Michael Cole is a frequent motivational speaker.

Motivating students. On the first day of class students exchange phone numbers; when a fellow student is absent, she usually gets a call from several classmates. Mack explains: “It can be tough to go through several months of school. Many students are working another job and juggling family responsibilities. We use this “Keep the Students in School” program to help students to work out problems among themselves – so they work as a team. We had one student who just stopped coming to class so several students called to see if they could help her, and eventually whatever the problem was, was resolved and she came back to class.”

Students are kept motivated with a series of small incentives: prizes for perfect attendance, a graduation banquet and awards ceremony, and a nail competition in front of salon owners and prospective employers. Pivot Point supports tradeshow attendance and regular competition. Last year the school sent a busload of students to the Midwest Beauty show and brought home five of the top six student awards.

Job placement. A Pivot Point graduate enjoys lifetime job placement services. The school recorded an 88% placement rate last year.

Motivating instructors. Pivot Point conducts regular hands-on seminars for instructors and encourages them to continue salon work so their skills stay current. Mack says the student-to-teacher ratio stays at a low 10:1 for maximum student attention. Chicago Cosmetologists Association membership for all instructors is paid by the school, and the company regularly brings in leading industry educators to conduct instructor-only classes. Time in the limelight also keeps instructor enthusiasm high. Says Mack: “We send our educators on the road all the time to teach. They’re stars in their own right. They also have a voice in how the school is run.”



More hours. Nail technicians should be repaired to have at least 350 classroom hours in preparation for their licensing exams. Licensed technicians and salon owners agree that those hours should be devoted to equal parts nail anatomy and physical sciences, chemical awareness, practical applications, and client relations.

Nationalize requirements. The reputation of the entire industry suffers when there is such disparity between the states in the qualifications of nail technicians. Only when all 50 states standardize hour and curriculum requirements can the quality of graduates and the image of the industry improve. Uniform requirements would also allow technicians to practice their craft in any state; under the current system, a technician can practice only in states that recognize her license. Some states, California among them, have no reciprocity agreements with other states, so a technician who wants to do nails in that state has to refrain and requalify before she can be licensed.

Mandatory continuing education. The nail industry is changing constantly, and the only way today’s technicians can stay on top of new technology is by attending technical workshops and seminars. Some states, Illinois for example, have included mandatory continuing education in their licensing bills.

Instructor education. To blame teachers for the problems of school education misplace the responsibility, but many industry experts believe that teachers should be required to have some salon experience before they are qualified to instruct new technicians. And, just as continuing education benefits the rank and file technicians, it keeps instructors abreast of new technologies as well.

Tighter purse-string. Part of the reason that the student loan situation got out of control was due to a shift in government priorities that made fewer grants available, but made loans easier to obtain. Because less money was available, many cosmetology students turned to the loan program to finance their educations and many of them found themselves unable (and sometimes unwilling) to repay those loans.

If the government makes more grant money (as opposed to loans) available, it may stem the defaulting many schools currently suffer; but in the meantime, schools need to do everything in their power to get students to replay their loans. Although the responsibility for repayment lies with the student, the government holds the school accountable for unpaid loans by cutting schools with high defaults off from financial aid programs.

Although accrediting organizations base their assessment of schools on a variety of areas, the government does not. It evaluates schools based on student default rates. Most of the school administrators we spoke to hope that narrow thinking will change and that the government will also begin to look at such measures of success as their job placements, attribution, and completion rates.




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