I Leap Head First Into Cosmetology School Licensing, and Come Out With a Fabulous Haircut
Yesterday, I was invited to attend an informal meeting in Jefferson City between members and staff of the state’s Board of Cosmetology and Barber Examiners, several owners of cosmetology and barber colleges, and lobbyists for the state association of cosmetology schools. I was invited by John and Nancy Tirre, who own Current Trends Academy in St. Peters. They are the only people in attendance that I’ll name, out of an abundance of caution. The Tirres were concerned about the provisions in House Bill 2194, which would have further regulated an already heavily regulated industry: cosmetology and barber colleges. (Here is the bill summary.) There is no nice way for me to put this; the proposals in this bill are awful, and fundamentally anti-competitive and anti–free market. If you don’t agree with me, you probably feel that the government has a perfectly good reason to dictate via legislation that every new cosmetology school in Missouri must have at least nine instructors on staff before they can enroll even one student.
At the beginning of the meeting, the lobbyist for the cosmetology school association (of which the Tirres are members) told everyone that the bulk of HB 2194 will be pulled from consideration. This is excellent news. Next, he said that a new proposal would replace the deleted language with a simple two-year moratorium on any new cosmetology and barber schools opening in Missouri. This, of course, is an equally horrible idea.
After that, the meeting got down to business. One of the moratorium’s supporters, who owns three cosmetology schools in rural Missouri, stated that the primary problem the industry is dealing with is a lack of qualified instructors in colleges. He said that the moratorium — and the language that had been removed from the bill — are all just ways of dealing with that problem, and that the moratorium is designed so the industry can collectively propose solutions.
Many of you reading this will probably react exactly as I did, which is to say that if you don’t have enough instructors, then private colleges should offer a higher salary for instructors and the problem will solve itself — resulting in whatever equilibrium instructor allocation tends to be more efficient. The most basic economics tells you that shortages are best dealt with by increasing price. If you need more instructors at barber colleges, then offer to pay them more.
However — and this is where I wanted to tear my hair out, as I patiently sat there listening — it honestly took a half-hour of shortage discussion before anyone mentioned salaries. They went through the numbers of licensed instructors in Missouri in detail. There are 343 current instructors in Missouri. There are 279 people with active instructor licenses who do not teach. Finally, there are 364 people with inactive licenses who could very quickly and easily reactivate their licenses. So, there is a pool of 643 people who are trained to do this work but not doing it. Clearly, some of them would choose to again teach at cosmetology school is the salary offered were high enough. It should be noted that, in a related and worthy effort to increase the supply of instructors, the licensing qualifications for instructors were substantially pared down a few years ago. I am all for that, but if that strategy did not work by itself, another solution like raising salaries is a logical next step.
If the first half of the meeting might have been unsettling, the second half was inspiring. The arguments of those who favored the moratorium were strongly opposed by several of the other people in attendance. One member of the state board of cosmetology, who owns a school and would benefit from the moratorium, called it “selfish” and said that the industry had no right to stop someone who was trying to “fulfill a dream” by opening their own business. Another board member said similar things, and made it clear that she would oppose the proposal. The Tirres, too — who, as school owners, could also benefit from a moratorium — opposed it on principle. In the end, those present agreed not to move forward with proposing the moratorium, and it appears that all of the anti-competitive ideas in the bill are dead for now — hopefully, dead for a long time.
The discussion contained plenty of areas of positive agreement. I heard a number of great proposals on ways that the schools could work together to improve teacher recruitment, change their teaching methods to reach students who are a “new type of learner,” and more. There was discussion about the absurdity of parts of the current regulatory system, such as how a school can get in trouble if one of its instructors goes home sick, and a random state inspection comes later that same day to find the school temporarily short of the required 25-1 student-teacher ratio. It’s beyond me why tax documents would not suffice to demonstrate the correct number of instructors. (And I’m not overlooking the fact that a mandated 25-1 ratio is a dumb requirement in the first place, but they all seemed to think it is not a big deal.)
I did say my piece at the end of the meeting. I left feeling happy to have watched members of the board kill bad legislation. I readily admit that I don’t think cosmetology and barber practitioners and schools should be licensed at all, but it is worth my time and effort to help prevent bad rules from becoming even worse rules. It was great to see defenders of competition win out, at least for now.
Anyone reading this who was present at the meeting should feel free to use our comment section to claim credit for the above paraphrased quotes, expand on my opinions, or tell me how I am stupid.