Holding Your Right to Work for Ransom

Nevada Journal

For young people in Las Vegas or Reno attracted to careers in cosmetology, the barriers erected by the State of Nevada are pretty steep.

Under rules set up by the State Cosmetology Board, in order to even test for a license allowing you to trim fingernails, braid hair, cut hair, do facials or serve in any other of eight state-identified cosmetology categories, you’ll not only have to cough up a big chunk of money but also run what might be called the Cosmetology Board gauntlet.

That gauntlet includes spending up to a year in a board-licensed private “cosmetology” school — average tuition of $17,000 — for a couple of months’ classroom instruction by cosmetology-board-licensed instructors, and then spend the rest of the time working as unpaid labor in the school’s salon.

While salon customers will pay the school for your services, you may get tips, if the salon allows it (some don’t) and the customer goes out of his or her way.

Thinking of simultaneously holding an outside job? It’s almost impossible, because of the way the programs are scheduled. You’ll also need to fork over an extra couple hundred to cover the school’s required materials kit.

Not surprisingly, it’s exceedingly common for students to emerge with mountains of debt.

Kelli Clayton, the manager of a salon at large local cosmetics chain, had to pay several thousand dollars extra because her work schedule forced her to take an additional couple of months to finish her schooling.

More than 10 years after graduating, she was still under a mountain of debt. Her loan payments would have covered the loan and insurance of a brand-new car, or a mortgage on a small condo. She was only capable of paying it off after a deceased family member left her a modest inheritance.

It’s similar for other students who have bills to pay, kids to feed, or other family members to care for. They’re likely to end up taking longer than the prescribed term to graduate, which results in the schools charging them thousands more just to work for them in the salon long enough (and to release the paperwork showing the time served) to test for licensure.

In many cases, the diversity of the services students are actually assigned to in the salons won’t even cover the scope of the license. That means you’ll likely leave school never having performed some common services, like a bikini-wax, or working on gray hair.

Stevi Williamson, an esthetician here in Las Vegas, got charged for two full courses of study. She attended Marinello School of Beauty. When they closed their doors due to federal allegations of financial crimes, Stevi was forced to find a new place to complete her schooling. She was only a few weeks from completing the requisite numbers of hours to test for her license. When she found a school that would take her, Euphoria Institute of Beauty Arts and Sciences, she was told that many of her credits could not be accepted, and that she would have to pay more than $20,000 to complete her education with them. Stevi is still carrying the bulk of both of her $20,000-plus student loans.

Savanna Angi, another local esthetician in the valley, explained that the hours worked in the salon were not evenly balanced for building particular skills. For the most part, clients were simply assigned down an alphabetical list of students.

Out of necessity, she spent her entire time enrolled in school going straight from her 10-hour days in the school to her full-time job to work another 8 hours.

While Savana was studying to be an esthetician, she said that because of the clientele coming in to the salons, she never received hands-on experience with certain services she wanted to learn but salon clients weren’t requesting.

Interestingly, high-school students Las Vegas who already know what they will want to do on graduation may be in a better career position than are older adults. Southeast Career Technical Academy (formerly known as Vo-Tech) actually offers a well-attended cosmetology curriculum.

It “gives students the opportunity to accrue the required 1600 hours for Nevada State Board of Cosmetology licensure which allows students a variety of career options,” says the school website.

Also, if you happen to be among the less-than-10-percent of Nevadans who live far enough outside of Las Vegas or Reno to qualify, you can, to some extent, escape the state board’s manacles.

The general topic of occupational licensure currently is under a national spotlight.

The Obama administration in 2015 produced a study that found regulations governing licensing in many occupations were frequently overburdensome, especially for some Americans.

Specifically mentioned were military spouses, new immigrants and individuals with prior criminal convictions.

Another widely cited study, produced by the Institute for Justice, was titled, “License to Work, A National Study of the Burdens of Occupational Licensing.” It determined that Nevada has the third-most burdensome licensing requirements of any state, with the fourth-most extensive and onerous licenses.

Also cited by the Obama Administration was a study done by the National Bureau of Economic Research, titled, “How Do Professional Licensing Regulations Affect Practitioners? New Evidence.” It concluded that the effects of cosmetology licensing had either no effect or only a “modest increase” in quality.

Over 90 percent of the workforce in the cosmetology field is female, according to datausa.io, a data set collected by the federal government and organized in collaboration with MIT.

Thus, it is young women just beginning their careers who bear the brunt of both Nevada’s licensing laws and the for-profit cosmetology schools those laws have spawned.

In an industry where the average income is between $21,000 and $24,000 annually, the average cosmetology-school tuition is $17,000, but can also exceed $20,000. On top of tuition, students must pay additional fees and buy books and equipment.

According to a recent New York Times article — A $21,000 Cosmetology School Debt and a $9-an-hour Job —the for-profit cosmetology school industry was, in the 2015-2016 school year, responsible for $1.2 billion in federal grants and loans.

Moreover, courses of study in the schools are strictly regimented in a fashion that effectively prohibits full-time work outside school as well as deterring part-time work.

Figures from datausa.io suggest that, in 2016, Nevada’s cosmetology schools generated just under $20 million in federal student loan debt, across fewer than 1,100 students.

These numbers only include federal student loans, not private loans or the income foregone by these students while unable to work other meaningful jobs while enrolled. For contrast, a student can complete an associate degree at College of Southern Nevada for less than $10,000. However, CSN does not currently offer a cosmetology curriculum.

All of the individuals interviewed by Nevada Journal hold some license issued by the Nevada State Board of Cosmetology and attended its licensed schools.

Regularly mentioned in the interviews were several themes.

The schools were very strict about the scheduling. Many students end up paying additional thousands over the sticker price. They saw the license as something necessary to earning a living.

The bulk of the time they are enrolled in these schools is spent working in the schools’ salons. The students are not paid for this work. They actually pay tuition for the time they are working in the salons performing services for paying clientele. Some school salons don’t even allow students to take tips. In addition, much of the time spent in those salons is not spent performing services, but instead just doing busy-work, or even simply existing in the salon on the clock.

Many of the schools pressured the students to push school merchandise to the clients, thus prioritizing income for the salon over the student-clients’ education. Many salons lack the volume or diversity of clientele that would allow students to gain experience in the full range of services covered by the licenses they’re pursuing.

One point that shows the arbitrary nature of the licensing hurdles that the State of Nevada has erected is that — as the state already acknowledges — cosmetologists can easily be trained without being compelled to incur massive debt enrolling at one of these state-licensed schools.

Apprenticeship programs are already available to individuals who live more than 60 miles from any school. In 1999, the Statutes of Nevada regarding cosmetology licensing were amended to add this program and its proximity requirement.

Minutes for the 1999 Senate hearing on Senate Bill 13, which amended prior law, are quite brief. A representative of the cosmetology licensing board addresses the creation of the apprenticeship program, explaining that the program will be beneficial to those living too far from a school to reasonably attend.

However, the representative failed to mention that until that time, the law had allowed for individuals to become eligible to test for licensing after having worked as a “junior operator” for a period of less than two years. The program was promoted to lawmakers as being less prohibitive, when in fact, for the vast majority of Nevadans, it made the least reasonable avenue to licensure their only option.

The law requiring these licenses at all had been enacted in 1931. Thus, for the 68 years before the 1999 Nevada Legislature, people were capable of achieving licensure through apprenticeship with no issue.

Perhaps surprisingly, Nevada Revised Statutes at 644A.310 actually allow the licensing board to simply waive the 60-mile requirement for apprenticeships, should it choose to do so.

However, when Nevada Journal asked directly via email, Erin Litterer, a staff member for the State Board of Cosmetology, replied that “Apprenticeships are not available based on the tuition or cost of attending currently licensed schools in Nevada.”

While the proposed 1999 amendments got little scrutiny in the Republican State Senate — where the legislation had been introduced as a committee bill by the Commerce and Labor Committee’s chairman, Randolph J. Townsend — it did produce questions in the Democrat Assembly’s committee of the same name.

Chair Barbara Buckley asked a Republican assemblyman, David Humke if he had any concerns regarding the proposed legislation. She said she was concerned whenever legislation was presented to license apprentices, adding that the State of Nevada would be guilty of over-regulating if every apprentice or professional assistant in the state was to receive a license.

“Mr. Humke,” according to committee minutes, “did not respond.”

At the time Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani (current Clark County Commissioner and candidate for governor in the 2018 primary), joined Buckley, highlighting similar attempts to restrict entry into professions cropping up elsewhere.

She also pointed out that “the Board of Cosmetology was proposing to require all beauty salon employees who applied make-up to have a license to do so.” While “she did not see any reference to estheticians in the measure,” she expressed “her disapproval if there was an attempt to attach a similar provision to S.B. 13.”

If fact, however, estheticians — termed “aestheticians” —  were already listed in the law and covered even before the 1999 amendments were proposed.

Two-thirds supermajorities in both chambers of the Nevada Legislature subsequently, that session, approved the new, more restrictive legislation.

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