Beauty School Graduates Have Debt

That Overwhelms Their Income

By Megan Wilson
The Razorback Reporter

Beauty school graduates pay a higher price for success when measured by student-loan debt than other college graduates, according to data from College Scorecard from the U.S. Department of Education.

For example, an Arkansas beauty school graduate whose tuition is about $12,765 for about 1 year, lands a job making about $25,000 a year and gets saddled with $8,000 in student loan debt, according to College Scorecard data.

In comparison, the average in-state tuition for UofA undergraduates is $25,550; the average out-of-state undergraduate tuition is $41,538. College graduates, whose median annual income can reach $60,060 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, have on average about $30,000 in student-loan debt.

In 2017, the average salary for hairstylists, barbers and cosmetologists was $24,900, according to the BLS. On average, that is less than the standard of $25,100 that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services sets as the poverty threshold for a family of four.

Renee Tucker, Searcy Beauty College financial aid director, has never had students with more debt than they can repay, she said.

“I’ve been here for three years and most students don’t have a massive amount of debt,” Tucker said.

Jillian Genz, Luxe hair stylist, went to the UofA and completed a double-major in marketing and management before she decided to attend the Paul Mitchell school in Fayetteville. Her student loan debt from Paul Mitchell is about $8,000, she said. The Paul Mitchell Cosmetology program is 12 months.

“Whenever I was in school there I was independent,” she said, “so I got more grants, but I know the average if you don’t have any grants or anything it’s right at $20,000.”

To qualify as independent for a student loan, the applicant must be at least 24 years old, or married, or a graduate or professional student, a veteran, a member of the armed forces, an orphan, a ward of the court, someone with legal dependents other than a spouse, an emancipated minor or someone who is homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, according to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) website.

Genz graduated with almost $10,000 in debt, she has not had to change her lifestyle, she said, because “it is like having a car payment. You have to budget it in.

“I don’t feel like it made me struggle or anything,” Genz said, “just because I think my average payment, which like I said I have my other loan as well, I think my payments a month are like $200.”

Sarah Ussery, Luxe co-owner, graduated from Paul Mitchell in 2013 with $18,000 in debt, she said.

Making monthly payments is not stressful for her.

“At first, yes. At first, I think my payment was like $175 a month,” she said. “So, when you’re first starting out, you’re starting at zero. I had a second job as I was building my clientele up.”

Now that she is working at Luxe full-time, she is not worried about where she will find the money to pay each month, she said.

The median debt for graduates of Paul Mitchell was $12,000 in 2016, according to College Scorecard.

Morgan Tillman, Luxe hair stylist, worked in corporate America before realizing that doing hair is her true passion, she said. She graduated from the UofA in 2014 with a Bachelor of Science in Human Environmental Sciences in Apparel Studies.

“I worked corporate for about two-and-a-half years and it was miserable. I hated sitting in a cubicle working 8 to 5 not really having a flexible schedule,” she said.

Tillman misses some aspects of working corporate, such as having others look up to her as a woman in the corporate world, but Luxe is where she is supposed to be, she said.

“It’s really cool having the power of ‘Wow. People really respect you and you’re a young female in business’ and I really enjoyed that,” she said, “and I felt really empowered by that, but I was so miserable.”

Tillman had always wanted to do hair and hair and fashion were in the same field, so she decided she would have a much better and happier career life if she went back to school for cosmetology.

The price of Tillman’s happiness is $60,000; she is repaying $40,000 in loans at the UofA and $20,000 in loans at Paul Mitchell. That averages $400 a month, she said. Her parents help her pay some of that, Tillman said.

“I’ll be paying it off for like 15 or 20 years or something. I don’t even know, maybe closer to 10, but a while,” she said.

Beauty schools are not included among those that get state support as four-year public schools, two-year public schools and independent schools, according to the Arkansas Department of Higher Education.

“I feel like they don’t let us participate in the academic challenge scholarship, because we are a vo-tech school and I feel like that they think maybe that the beauty industry is not a lucrative industry, but it is very much so,” said Angela Hooton, the financial aid director at Searcy Beauty College in Searcy, Arkansas.

“I have several friends that make six digits, you know. I’ve got other friends that have got a four-year degree in accounting and don’t come close to what my hairdresser friends make,” Hooton said.

They try to help their students as much as they can but there are outside programs, like Arkansas Rehabilitation, that they direct students to pay, she said.

“We did have scholarships when I first came, and the school just wasn’t in a financial position at that time to keep doing them,” Hooton said. “We probably could at this point, and sometimes we offer a discount on tuition when we can.”

Student loans are a big topic of conversation at beauty schools, Tillman and Ussery said.

“Everybody talked about it all the time. It was ‘Oh yeah, I’m paying off my loan that I got from beauty school’ or ‘I had to take out loans.’ Almost every person I would say took out loans,” Tillman said.

Despite the lack of state support, Hooton doesn’t think beauty schools are going anywhere, she said.

“Everybody’s gonna get their hair cut whether the market goes down or not,” Hooton said.