Some Beauty Schools Care More About Federal Aid Money Than Student Success

Making a living out of manicures, highlights, and makeup application sounds like a pretty fun gig, but the truth behind a cosmetology education isn't so pretty: Enrolling in beauty school could leave you thousands of dollars in debt and with no job prospects to speak of. An article in this week's New York Times strips the (flawlessly made-up) veil away from the not-so-glamorous life of a beauty school student.

In the 1980s and 1990s, beauty schools such as Jon Louis, Robert Fiance Hair Design, and the Wilfred Academy of Hair and Beauty Culture closed down after drawing fire for the misuse of federal student loan money. Unfortunately for the women who were enrolled in those schools — many of whom were already disadvantaged — the nightmare still isn't over. They're crippled with student loan debt from their fraudulent educations, and they don't even have the skills necessary to make a career out of cosmetology. The women profiled in the Times make $25,000 to $34,000 a year, working in day care centers and group homes without a makeup brush in sight, but every month they have to shell out the cash to pay for an education that gave them nothing.

Herman De Jesus, senior program associate for an advocacy organization called the New Economy Project, says that some beauty schools deliberately target "low-income people and people of color for the sole purpose of drawing down large sums of federal aid dollars." In other words, these schools couldn't care less if their students learn how to properly perform a dye job.

And this isn't a problem that's stuck in the '80s. Today's functioning beauty schools are still garnering serious criticism — just look at this complaint filed against Empire Beauty School in Thorton, Colo. earlier this year, which is only one of hundreds posted all over the Internet. The accuser, a former student, rails, 

This is a money-making scam.... They over-enroll students.... Sexual harassment is prevalent and also overlooked and disregarded. Daily and consistent violations of NAACS — National Association of Accredited Cosmetology Schools — are rampant. We have been openly told if the school is discredited, we "will not be able to receive our degree and therefore lose our money." UNREAL. Proper disinfection/sanitation practices are grossly overlooked on a daily level; clean towels are scarce to none.

Of course, there are plenty of happy hairdressers out there who probably went to legitimate, supportive beauty schools. But it's disheartening to learn that an industry based on making women feel good about themselves is so often founded on principles of manipulation and greed. Keep this in mind next time you're looking for a cheap haircut by a beauty school student — or at least tip your student hairdresser well. They may be paying upwards  of $20,000 for an education that might not have their back.

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