Here’s a guest post by my former student, John K. Ross:
The alt weekly DigBoston recently ran a nice piece week shedding light on cosmetology schools’ sometimes-predatory relationships with their students. One school charges $12,000 for a 33-week course that satisfies Massachusetts’ licensing requirements.
Aspiring cosmetologists in the commonwealth must complete 1,000 hours of training at a beauty school. Many students take out loans to help with tuition. DigBoston writer Dan Schneider does some digging and deduces that default rates on those loans may be as high as one in six—within the first two years of graduation. Moreover, according to Schneider, beauty school owners habitually lie about graduates’ job prospects.
Thus, cosmetologists—who tend to be low-income women, says Schneider—emerge from school with loads of debt and bleak prospects for employment. Many do not graduate.
Schneider does a great job documenting the travails of would-be cosmetologists and the nefarious practices of some schools. He doesn’t explicitly say those practices are enabled by Massachusetts’ occupational licensing regime, but I do. The rules foreclose time-tested (and less expensive) alternatives paths to competency like apprenticeships.
Proponents argue that licensing is necessary to protect the public from incompetent practitioners. But in Massachusetts, cosmetologists must spend nearly 10 times more hours in training (233) than emergency medical technicians (26). It simply beggars belief that it takes so much more time to prepare a cosmetologist to serve the public safely than a first responder.
And it’s not just Massachusetts. All 50 states and the District of Columbia impose enormous training requirements on cosmetologists. In fact, Massachusetts’ cosmetology rules are the least burdensome in the country. (See this report I had a hand in putting together on the subject.)
Schneider’s piece illuminates a real-world consequence of occupational licensing. Licensing can derail attempts by people of modest means to earn an honest living—and saddles them with debt for their troubles.