SALT LAKE CITY — A glut of private beauty schools in Utah — not competition from public cosmetology programs — is the main reason some schools are facing declining enrollment, according to a legislative audit released Tuesday.
Auditors found that "the school district programs are too small to have a significant impact on the overall industry," stating that public programs represent only 1.8 percent of beauty school instruction hours in Utah, and that eliminating them would have little impact on state and local revenues.
The audit came after lawmakers asked the Office of the Legislative Auditor General to examine the efficiency of public cosmetology programs. Representatives of the Utah Beauty School Association have also expressed concern about the competition they face from the public cosmetology programs.
Utah currently has 48 privately run cosmetology schools. The U.S. Department of Labor found that the state employs more than 2.5 times as many beauty school instructors per capita than the national average.
The state's private beauty schools experienced a drop in enrollment during 2008 and 2009, the height of the economic downturn. But by 2010, some private schools saw enrollment recover after qualifying for federal Title IV funds, including Pell Grants for students and subsidized student loans.
The audit focused on programs offered by school districts, but also included analysis of technical school and community college programs.
Auditors found that in general, public cosmetology programs cost more to run than their private counterparts.
For instance, the cost per student hour of training at SLCC is $14.06, while the cost of an hour of training at one private school is $7.13. The report declined to name which private schools it studied.
Higher compensation for employees as well as higher administrative costs were cited as some of the reasons public schools are pricier to run than private schools.
Since high school students pay relatively small fees, school districts rely mostly on taxpayer dollars to cover the cost of cosmetology training — including hair stylist, nail technician and esthetics training — while private schools are funded primarily through tuition and income from salon sales, the report stated.
Four school districts — Granite, Canyons, Tooele and Millard — currently offer cosmetology training.
Granite School District's director of the Career and Technology Division told auditors that one of the program's main goals is to give students "a taste" of possible career choices.
Many of the high school students who enroll in cosmetology courses aren't seriously pursuing a career in the field, the auditors found, and wouldn't likely enroll in a private program if the high school courses weren't available.