Would-be cosmetologists frustrated by delays

Some vocational education students such as cosmetology program graduates remain in limbo—finished with school yet unable to sit for the state testing required for licensure by the Board of Barbering and Cosmetology because of restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bellus Academy Director of Educational Operations Khris Pool said the school, which maintains schools throughout the county and has about 150 students in El Cajon, has about 100 students countywide who have graduated and are simply waiting to sit for state exams.

Graduating from any of the nationally accredited, vocational education programs the school oversees is only the first step toward employment at a salon or barber shop— graduates have to pass a California state written test as well as a practical test completed on a doll’s head before they are given a license to work.

Pool said several students were able to complete the written test but, due to a backlog from COVID-19 restrictions, they have no idea when they’ll be able to take the practical test.

California Department of Consumer Affairs Deputy Director of Communications Monica Vargas said exam sites were initially closed during the beginning of the pandemic; licensing exams resumed in June 2020 and were halted again from December through February of 2021.

“We understand students are eager to take their final exam and ensuring they have an avenue to obtain licensure is a top priority for the Board. We continue to further identify solutions to best meet the needs of students in the COVID-19 environment while continuing our primary mission of protecting consumers,” Vargas said.

One solution, Pool suggested,  has currently licensed salons, which are already up to state standards, could be used as test sites with administrators observing in-person or through a video feed to watch and ensure a student is following proper procedures.

Pool estimated there are about 7,000 graduates throughout the state of California who are all vying for a test slot with a board operating at 50% capacity for testing and believes temporarily establishing more test sites would help make up for lost time during the pandemic.

She believes temporarily using local salons as test sites might even provide rental profit to struggling business owners if incentivized to offer up their salons for test use during off hours.

“State testing is very backed up and I’d estimate about 15 students are able to sit for the practical test at once,” Pool said.

“The Board has prioritized scheduling for all candidates who had their examination cancelled or were affected by the site closures and expects all students who were impacted by the delay to have exam dates provided to them in the month of April with expected exam dates now through July,” Vargas said.

Meanwhile, because they finished school, Pool said, many graduates have had to begin paying back student loans for the programs, which cost anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000 without being able to work in their field.

El Cajon Congressman Darrell Issa recently visited the El Cajon facility and said he sent a March 4 letter to California Governor Gavin Newsom “calling on Governor Newsom to exhibit leadership and fix this problem” by developing creative solutions.