Trade schools, at face value, offer a host of benefits to students. The curriculum is often directly geared toward the desired career path, the course load is presented at an accelerated pace so most programs can be completed in less time than in a traditional setting and many facilities offer flexible hours so students can attend at a time most convenient to them. For people who aren’t able to do a four-year college or university program, for-profit trade or technical schools are often seen as a great option. Though enrollment numbers took a sharp decline in 2011, data from the New York Federal Reserve Bank shows that between 2000 and 2011, for-profit enrollment in less-than-two-year institutions more than doubled, with 52 percent of this growth taking place in the three years after the onset of the recession.
Unfortunately, the number of school closures has increased in recent years. Major for-profit school chain Corinthian Colleges Inc. closed its doors (at its peak, Corinthian had 100 campuses across the U.S. and Canada) in May of last year. Last month, ITT Technical Institute, which operated 130 facilities, closed and filed for bankruptcy, leaving thousands of students high and dry. September also marked the closing of Regency Beauty Institute, another for-profit entity that at one time operated three Indianapolis locations.
Nicole Johnson, a former Regency Beauty Institute student, said hair has been a passion of hers since she was a child. She was also impressed with the liberty a career in beauty could provide. Johnson came to Regency after having pursued other career interests in the pharmacy and dentistry fields. Johnson initially enrolled four years ago, but she decided to go back to Regency’s Avon location full time in August.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to be a hairstylist,” she said. “The freedom that you get when it comes to your time and the interaction with the public … in the African-American community, there’s a camaraderie and sisterhood there that’s inexplicable.”
While at Regency, she not only enhanced her knowledge of the craft, but she also gained a familial bond with the students and instructors. Johnson had repeat clients who would visit the school just to receive services from her; one of them even took to social media to brag about the excellent pedicure she’d received. Things were looking up until that evening on Sept. 28 when she received a bit of unexpected news.
“It was a total shock. It was very hurtful and it was tacky. The way we found out initially was through social media,” she said. While scrolling through Instagram, she noticed a post on the school’s now-defunct profile. It stated that each of its locations would be closing immediately. Johnson said she and many students thought it was some sort of hoax until they began receiving automated phone calls.
Shortly before the 28th, Johnson said a corporate employee visited the campus and assured everyone that their school would not be closing and the “rumors” they’d heard had no merit.
Regency’s corporate office was contacted for comment, but there was no one available. Instead, an automated recording instructs callers to visit the website. On the site, all of the tabs have been removed and replaced with a monochromatic gray landing page with the following statement: “How did this happen? In short, the organization does not have the cash to continue to run the business. There are multiple intertwined reasons: Declining numbers of cosmetology students nationwide, a negative characterization of for-profit education by regulators and politicians that continues to worsen and, in light of these factors, an inability to obtain continued financing.”
The aforementioned characterizations stem from the fact that many for-profit students seek out federal and private aid to pay for their schooling. For a host of reasons, the loans are, in large part, never repaid, creating a grimmer financial outlook for all parties involved.
Barbara Cheatham, a former Regency instructor and 20-year beauty professional, knows this scenario all too well. While pursuing her own cosmetology license, Cheatham experienced not one, but two school closures. In the end, she attended Kaye’s Beauty College, which closed its Castleton location last weekend. She has concerns about the future of the industry.
“The field as I see it is a field that you can be very successful in, where people can reach goals they never thought were possible. I have turned out some of the best students and, for many of them, beauty school was the last option,” she said. “What’s going on in the industry right now is very scary to me. I’m very concerned.”
Brown says she will continue her career in beauty with a spirit of cautious optimism. She has enrolled in Empire Beauty College, another for-profit school. All of the credit hours she has acquired will transfer and, after speaking with her loan provider, she has a few options for financial aid. “My courage is a little shaken with believing in institutions of higher education,” she said. “I have enrolled to Empire, but I’m nervous. I’m going to call their corporate office and ask a lot of questions about everything. I’m nervous.”