May 1, 2024

Beyoncé’s Scholarships Shine Light on Troubled Cosmetology School

Beyoncé's Scholarships Shine Light on Troubled Cosmetology School

Early this year, Beyoncé’s public charity BEYGood announced a tantalizing opportunity for budding cosmetologists.

It would fund 25 scholarships, amounting to $10,000 each, for students attending one of five cosmetology schools nationwide. The idea is a good one — cosmetology students often come from low-income backgrounds and may end up taking out thousands of dollars in loans only to earn bottom-of-the-barrel wages. 

On top of the financial hardship, some cosmetology schools don’t even offer high-quality education, teaching students only rudimentary skills that don’t have much value in the contemporary hair and esthetics world. 

Unfortunately, one school involved in Beyoncé’s campaign seems to be one such troubled institution. 

Trenz Beauty Academy has faced repeated sanctions from regulators, including its accreditor and the U.S. Department of Education. And in some recent years, Trenz Beauty graduated only about half of its students — calling into question the wisdom of funding scholarships to a school with such persistent problems.

Trenz Beauty’s rocky accreditation history

Trenz Beauty maintains two Illinois campuses, one in Chicago and the other in Calumet City, which offer various programs including in cosmetology, esthetics and hair braiding. 

It opened in 2010, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, which reported the school’s cosmetology degree costs $21,500 to complete. 

Trenz Beauty caters to Black students and clientele. Payton described it to the Sun-Times as the “only African American beauty school in the city that offers financial aid.” About 20% of Trenz Beauty students also take out federal loans, according to Education Department data.

It appears the institution did not provide federal financial aid in its first couple of years operating, though, as Education Department data shows it first secured accreditation in 2012. This is a requirement to be eligible for federal aid.

In 2021, Trenz Beauty’s accreditor, the National Accrediting Commission of Career Arts and Sciences, or NACCAS, evaluated the institution and discovered several violations of its standards. A letter from NACCAS to Trenz Beauty does not entirely specify how the school wasn’t in compliance. But it noted one of the school’s “limitations” was critical. 

NACCAS also in that letter said it would monitor Trenz Beauty for not following rules around supplying accurate data on how many students graduate, find employment and pass licensure exams. 

The accreditor mandates institutions in its purview maintain 50% graduation rate, a 70% passage rate on licensure tests, and a 60% job placement rate. 

Trenz Beauty has previously failed to reach at least the graduation rate standard. Its graduation rate for the 2019 student cohort was 57% — but it was 45% the year prior.

Regulators that decide whether a college should remain open often examine metrics such as the number of students graduating and finding employment. In fact, the Biden administration last year finalized a rule that tests whether graduates of for-profit cosmetology and other career-focused programs earn more than student loan debt they’ve incurred.

Programs that don’t pass the debt-to-earnings test could have their federal funding yanked. Cosmetology schools are some of the ones most likely to fail this test, too, by their own admission. In March, beauty schools that sued the Education Department over the new regulation argued in court filings it “poses an existential threat to cosmetology programs, as nearly every such program will fail the tests created by this rule and lose the ability to process federal student aid as a result.”

Amid Trenz Beauty’s problems at the time, NACCAS ordered the school to craft a teach-out plan. This outlines how students can complete their studies or transfer to another institution in the event a college closes. 

Despite the mandated teach-out plan, and Trenz Beauty not meeting NACCAS standards, the accreditor still renewed the school’s accreditation through 2025 — taking a backseat in holding it accountable.

NACCAS does not publicly comment on institutions it accredits, Darin Wallace, its executive director, said in an email.

Later in 2021, NACCAS put Trenz Beauty’s accreditation on probation. It wrote to the school again in November 2021, informing it had been unable to verify the Trenz Beauty’s graduation, employment and licensure pass rates.

Several students’ scheduled graduation dates did not match the timing of when their enrollment contracts with Trenz Beauty ended, the accreditor noted in a letter.

And Trenz Beauty did not correctly verify whether some students had found jobs or passed their licensure exams, the letter stated. 

In one case, a student told Trenz Beauty in a text message that she did “nails from my home” after graduating. But this statement did not clearly spell out whether the student was earning money “or simply providing this service as a favor or means of practice,” NACCAS wrote in the letter.

Last year, NACCAS lifted Trenz Beauty’s probation, but did not cite a reason as to why in a publicly available letter. NACCAS had also in April 2023 informed the school it was no longer monitoring it for poor student outcomes, like weak graduation rates, as it now met the accreditor’s requirements.

Other action taken

However, the college was still under Education Department scrutiny despite NACCAS ending Trenz Beauty’s probation.

In August 2022, the Education Department punished Trenz Beauty with what’s called heightened cash monitoring 2.

Colleges can normally draw federal financial aid directly from the Education Department, but the penalty required Trenz Beauty to front those costs from its own budget and then seek department reimbursement. Heightened cash monitoring intends to protect taxpayer dollars in the event an institution is on the verge of closing.

The Education Department instituted heightened cash monitoring because it found the college had violated multiple federal regulations, including upkeep of accurate attendance records. The department also said in a letter to Trenz Beauty that it did not have the “administrative capability” to offer a quality education. 

The department has received complaints about the college, according to an agency spokesperson. Those complaints, which the department did not provide, revolve around the college’s operations, awarding financial aid, education quality, and problems related to student withdrawals. 

It “does not comment on institutional oversight activities, program reviews or investigations until any outcomes have been officially communicated to the institution,” the department spokesperson said.

Illinois’s Department of Financial and Professional Regulation has never disciplined Trenz Beauty, according to a public database. However, the agency can’t acknowledge ongoing investigations, according to its spokesperson, Chris Slaby.

The Illinois agency “will take appropriate action” if it uncovers rule violations, Slaby said in an email in February.

Regardless, Beyoncé’s charity should reconsider Trenz Beauty as a scholarship participant. 

Cosmetology students should not have to fear that as they pursue their passions, their chosen institution will crumble or close under the weight of sanctions — especially if they’re anchoring their dreams of social mobility to one of Beyoncé’s scholarships.

Her generosity would be better spent at an institution with a similar mission to Trenz Beauty, but one without the added baggage — a place where Black cosmetologists can without any worry flourish as part of the next generation of beauty mavens.