Cosmetology is a trade that has been taught in high schools for decades, thanks in part to funding from the federal Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. But this year, the rules covering that grant money have changed and that’s causing some consternation among students and instructors.
Yanira Hernandez twists strands of her mannequin’s hair into a cinnamon bun shape.
“And then you take a pin,” she says.
She’s a junior at Manor Senior High School, just outside of Austin.
“…I’m going to show you on the other side,” she says.
Hernandez is one of just over 12,000 current high school students in Texas on track to get a cosmetology license upon graduation. With this license she can quickly enter the job market, either forgoing expensive higher education or helping to supplement it.
“But I also want to be a lawyer so i feel like barber would be a side job,” Hernandez says.
It’s actually this flexibility of the cosmetology profession that’s been making it hard for the Texas Education Agency to quantify the course category’s success. The TEA is reviewing cosmetology, along with many of the Career and Technology Education – or CTE – course categories, to evaluate whether they still meet the requirements to be federally funded by the Perkins grant program.
In order to receive those federal dollars, a course category must meet be “high-wage, high-demand” and have “career pathways that include multiple entry and exit points.”
The TEA used Texas Workforce Commission data, and numbers from a private labor market analysis company to calculate what a “high wage” means for Texans. The number they came up with was just over $35,000 a year. But the Bureau of Labor Statistics says hairdressers and cosmetologists make less than that – an average of about $28,000 a year in Texas.
Still, some say the exact salary range is difficult to nail down. That’s because cosmetologists are often able to make their own hours and go into business for themselves, says Bridget Sharpe is with the Professional Beauty Association.
“We sort of don’t want to be held to this standard of you are only making so much a year It’s not reflective of what people are actually making.”
Glenda Calloway is the CTE director at Houston ISD, the largest district in the state. She says another reason the state wage statistics are so low is because cosmetologists rely on gratuity.
“There are a lot of tips that are given to people in the cosmetology profession, outside of their salary and sometimes those don’t all get reported in that sense so i think it’s really hard to capture what the true amount is.,” she says.
The ability to make money – any money – immediately after graduation is one reason Maria Lopez is in the cosmetology program at Hempstead High School. Her school contracts with Evvaylois Academy School of Beauty in Brenham.
“Even if you don’t want to do this. It’s an opportunity to get money to pay for what you want to do,” Lopez says.
She says the thought of being in the real world and supporting herself once she graduates has weighed on her since freshman year.
“I’ve always been scared to just graduate school,” Lopez says. “Because what am i going to to? I can’t just be with my parents my whole life. Because they already have to pay for me, they have to pay for my brothers too. /Everything – food housing, electricity. Everything.”
Private cosmetology school can total up to $20,000. And the cost of getting a degree after high school continues to rise. Plus, some students don’t want to sit in a classroom for another four years. The Professional Beauty Association’s Bridget Sharpe says high school CTE programs like cosmetology provide different career pathways for young people.
“There are some students who, once they graduate from high school, don’t have a ton of options and it definitely does affect those folks who are on the lower socio-economic sides of things both in Texas and nationally,” Sharpe says.
Data from the TEA and the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation shows that of the districts in the state with high schools licensed to teach cosmetology, close to half (46 percent) have populations which are 70 percent or more economically disadvantaged.
Manor ISD is one of those districts. The TEA says 74 percent of students there are economically disadvantaged. Almost 60 students are enrolled in the cosmetology program at Manor Senior High. The school’s new cosmetology facility still has the smell of freshly completed construction. So when Manor CTE Director Jill Ranucci spoke with the TEA, it left her worried.
“I was told that the course would be retired,” Ranucci says.
But that’s a different than the one in a TEA statement emailed to the Standard. It says in part, “TEA’s determination regarding whether certain programs meet federal standards does not mean the program cannot be offered. The decision to remove a course rests with the State Board of Education, not the TEA.”
So what does the state board say? Georgina Perez is the board representative for District One. She posted on her website that the board “has made no plans to either delete cosmetology or to take those classes out of the CTE chapter.”
The TEA says for this school year, eligible districts across the state received a total of more than $105 million in federal Perkins funding for CTE programs.
To determine whether programs will remain eligible, the TEA has set up several advisory committees made up of professionals, industry people and teachers. Their recommendations will be sent to public comment in November. Then, the proposals will either go back to the advisory committee for revision in December or straight to TEA Commissioner Mike Morath’s desk for approval.
Houston ISD CTE Director Glenda Calloway is among the many people who will be watching what happens next for cosmetology programs very closely.
“I just really hope that the message gets out there how important this program is. It’s the reason that they come to school. it’s…now i’m gonna get emotional about that— It’s important to them,” Calloway says.